Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone
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Individual Christians do not have any protection in law against being fired if they refuse to work on Sundays, a High Court judge has ruled.
The judgement by Mr Justice Langstaff, president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, upholds an earlier decision by a London tribunal that taking Sunday as a day of rest was not a “core component” of Christian belief. The judge rejected an appeal from Celestina Mba, who had claimed that she was constructively dismissed by Merton Council from her post as a care worker at Brightwell Children’s home in Morden, south west London, after refusing to work on Sundays. Mba, who worships every week at her Baptist church where she is a member of the ministry team offering pastoral care to the congregation, said that her managers had initially agreed to accommodate the requirements of her faith when she took up the position in 2007. But within a few months of starting the job, which involves looking after children with severe learning disabilities, she claimed that the pressure began for her to work on Sundays. On repeatedly being allocated Sunday shifts and threatened with disciplinary measures unless she agreed to change her church commitments - even though other workers were willing to take on her shifts- Mba felt that she had no alternative but to resign. She subsequently filed a constructive dismissal claim, which was funded by the Christian Legal Centre and instructed Paul Diamond, a leading religious rights barrister. But Mr Justice Langstaff upheld the lower tribunal’s ruling indicating that it was relevant that other Christians did not ask for Sundays off. The fact that some were prepared to work on Sundays meant that it was not protected, the court said. The judge added that a rule imposed by an employer that affected nearly every Christian would be more discriminatory than one that had an impact on only a few. Moreover, because there was evidence that a lot of Christians worked on Sundays, it was relevant in “weighing” the impact of the employers’ rule and so the earlier decision did not involve an error of law, he said.