Landmark case for discrimination on grounds of religion

United Kingdom

A member of the Transport and General Workers' Union has won a landmark case for discrimination on the grounds of religion following the introduction of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations in December 2003. An employment tribunal in Leeds found in favour of Mohammed Sajwal Khan, who was awarded compensation in the region of £20,000.

Mr Khan, who cleaned buses in Bradford, was sacked for gross misconduct after his employer alleged that he had, without authorisation, used his 25-day holiday entitlement and another week's unpaid leave, to visit Mecca. Mr Khan stated that he had requested permission from his employer for the trip, which was required by his faith. He stated that he had not received a formal response to his requests but the trip had been authorised after his manager said that if he heard nothing further he should assume it was "alright to go".

The new regulations are intended to protect individuals from discrimination on the grounds of their religion or belief in the context of their employment and vocational training. The regulations outlaw direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief, as well as perceptions of religion or belief (whether mistaken or not) and discrimination against individuals on the basis of the religion or belief of those with whom they associate.

The breadth of the scope of the regulations is uncertain as workers do not appear to have to provide evidence of their belief, nor is it clear the extent the religion must be followed. We shall have to await further jurisprudence on the application of the regulations to assess how far reaching they will be in practice.