The Employment Appeals Tribunal has handed down a decision in the case of Cherfi v G4S Security Services Ltd Bailii: UKEAT 0379_10_2405 which involved questions over the right of a Muslim Security Guard to leave his workplace on a Friday for afternoon prayers in a Mosque.
Mr Cherfi, a Muslim, was employed as a security guard by G4S Security Services Ltd (G4S). From 2005, he worked at a client's site in Highgate. He regularly left the site on Friday lunchtimes to attend Finsbury Park Mosque. In October 2008, G4S told Mr Cherfi that he could no longer leave the Highgate site at lunchtimes, as G4S was contractually obliged to ensure that a specified number of security guards were present throughout operating hours.
G4S offered to change Mr Cherfi's contract to a Monday to Thursday pattern with the option of him working either on a Saturday or a Sunday instead of Friday. Mr Cherfi was not prepared to work at the weekend and instead stopped working Fridays, taking them off as sick leave, annual leave or authorised unpaid leave. In March 2009, G4S told Mr Cherfi that this arrangement could not continue.
Mr Cherfi brought a claim for indirect religious discrimination under Under regulation 3(1)(b) of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (now replaced by sections 10 and 19 of the Equality Act 2010)
He claimed that G4S's requirement that security guards be on site at Friday lunchtimes placed Muslims at a particular disadvantage. Watford employment tribunal rejected his claim, deciding that the requirement was objectively justified and a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of meeting the employer's operational needs and that decision by the Tribunal was upheld by the EAT.
The Claimant relied on the 2005 case of Cross and others v British Airways plc as authority that economic considerations alone could not justify a discriminatory policy whilst the defendant relied on the 2010 case of Woodcock v Cumbria Primary Care Trust as authority that economic considerations could of themselves justify a discriminatory paractice. In this case if the requisite number of guards were not permanently on site the employer would be in breach of contract to its customer with consequent cost consequences.
The EAT considered that the financial implications of allowing the employee to leave the premises on a Friday were not the only factor in the Employers decision but, following Woodcock, it held that even if financial implications was the only factor that was sufficient to make the discriminatory policy reasonable and proportionate.