Refusing leave to attend religious festivals

April 2017

By Eliza Nash of Osborne & Wise

Gareddu v London Underground concerns religious discrimination and a request to take 5 weeks’ holiday.  Mr Gareddu, is a practicing Roman Catholic from Sardinia. Each August, he and his two brothers returned to Sardinia where their mother lives to be together and to attend religious festivals. Between 2009 and 2013, LU Ltd, permitted him to take five consecutive weeks’ annual leave in order to be able to do so.  However, a new manager refused permission. Mr Gareddu brought an indirect discrimination claim arguing that attendance with his family at ancient religious festivals in Sardinia was part of his religious belief.

Gareddu v London Underground concerns religious discrimination and a request to take 5 weeks’ holiday.  Mr Gareddu, is a practicing Roman Catholic from Sardinia. Each August, he and his two brothers returned to Sardinia where their mother lives to be together and to attend religious festivals. Between 2009 and 2013, LU Ltd, permitted him to take five consecutive weeks’ annual leave in order to be able to do so.  However, a new manager refused permission. Mr Gareddu brought an indirect discrimination claim arguing that attendance with his family at ancient religious festivals in Sardinia was part of his religious belief.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the refusal to grant five weeks’ holiday in one go was not indirect discrimination.  This was because Mr Gareddu’s claim that he needed the extended leave to attend religious festivals was not the real reason for the request.  Although he had initially claimed that he attended the same festivals every year, in 2013 he attended only nine of the 17 festivals identified. His assertion that his religious belief required him to attend a specific set of festivals over a five-week period was not, therefore, made in good faith.  The choice of which festivals to attend was a matter of family arrangement rather than religious belief.

This case was based on an analysis of the true reason for the request and confirms that it is reasonable for an employer to question the sincerity of an employee’s request for extended leave for religious reasons. Had the employee’s request been genuinely to attend the festivals, the employer’s refusal could potentially have been found to be indirect discrimination.