Employment Law Quiz

How much do you know about employment law? OGR Stock Denton has prepared this quiz to test your knowledge of various aspects of legislation relating to the workplace.  Why not take a couple of minutes to attempt the 10 questions and see how well you do? And remember, if you need any advice on any aspect of employment law, our team of expert lawyers is on hand to provide all the relevant support.

Questions & Answers:

Q1. Can an employer refuse an employee’s request for leave for religious holiday?

A: Yes, but only if there is a good business reason, otherwise this could be discrimination. If such a request is made then an employer should consider the request carefully and sympathetically, be reasonable and flexible, where possible, discussing the request and exploring any concerns with the employee. The employee in making the requests should be flexible, reasonable and sympathetic taking into account the terms of their contract, the demands of their job and the needs of their employer.

Q2. Can an employee choose not to undertake certain duties because of their religion or belief for example handling meat or alcohol?

A: No, An employer does not have to agree to this if there is a good business reason for their requirements and is proportionate. This situation highlights the importance at the recruitment stage that a job applicant should be clear about what specific duties are involved in the role so as to avoid any misunderstandings in the future.

The issue was considered in Ahmed v Tesco Stores Ltd and others ET/1301492/08; ET/1301830/08, where a Muslim warehouse worker claimed that requiring him to handle alcohol constituted indirect discrimination. Tesco successfully argued that supplying alcohol to stores was a legitimate aim and requiring Mr Ahmed to handle it was a proportionate means of achieving that aim. This was also a fact that Mr Ahmed had been made aware, at interview.

Q3. Does an employee who is a devout Muslim have greater rights and protection from their employer than a non observant Muslim?

A: No one religion or branch of religion overrides another. All protected beliefs are equal whether they are religious or philosophical. Not all followers of a particular religion will worship in the same way. On a practical level an employer may not even know which religion their staff members follow. This emphasises the need for there to be a culture for employees to raise any issues they have regarding their religion in the knowledge that it will be dealt with in an appropriate way.

Q4. Are there any circumstances where it is lawful for an employer to specify that an employee or job applicant must have, or not have, a particular characteristic under the Equality Act 2010?

A: There are limited circumstances where this may be lawful. For example, if it is an occupational requirement. However, this must be made clear in any advert for the position. In this situation, questions about religion and belief are permitted at interview where references can be specifically raised about this protected characteristic.

Q5. Can an employer refuse an employee’s request for time to pray?

A: An employer should try and be flexible and accommodate this where possible. An employer should consider if it is practical and reasonable for an employee to take breaks to coincide with prayer times. For example, maybe they could have shorter lunch breaks so that some of it could be used for prayer. There is no obligation on an employer to provide a quiet place to pray but if facilities are available then they should be provided, particularly if the employer provides comparable facilities to other staff.

However employers be careful to avoid creating a disadvantage for workers who do not need a quiet room (for example if they convert the only rest room to a prayer room) as this might amount to indirect religion and belief discrimination. Best practice would be to consult with all employees before designating a room for prayer and have a clear policy for using it.

Q6. Must an employer with a staff canteen or food service ensure it caters for all religious dietary requirements?

A: The answer to this very much depends on the size of the employer. The employer should also consider the make up of its work force to decide what is on its menu and offer suitable alternatives if appropriate, such as Halal/Kosher food. In refusing such a request there would have to be a good business reason taking into account the size of the facilities and the overall size of the business. Where no provision for food is provided by the employer then an employee may bring in their own food and should be allowed to store it or heat it separately in accordance with their own religions dietary requirements.

This issue was considered in Williams v Five Rivers Child Care Consortium Ltd ET/1801701/05 where a tribunal did not accept that the claimant (who did not eat pork) was at a disadvantage by the lack of choice available to him. The tribunal went on to find that any disadvantage was outweighed by the employers need to provide a varied menu at reasonable cost.

Q7. Is it discriminatory for an employer not to make any adjustments for an employee who is fasting for religious reasons?

A: Probably yes. If the employee has informed the employer that they will be fasting, the employer should consider how they can support them for example, by finding out how long and when they will be fasting.  There may be a number of temporary adjustments that can be made, such as to have more flexible working hours to accommodate them while they are fasting.  An employer should get permission from the employee to tell other members of staff so that people are accommodating and understanding. It may be that allowances need to be made for reduced performance during any period while the employee is fasting.

Q8. Where an Orthodox Jewish male employee refuses to shake hands with female staff and even clients due to his strict religious belief, can an employer require him to do so if it is causing the employer problems?

A: There is scope here for conflict between protected characteristics of religion or belief and sex discrimination. It can be a difficult task for an employer to try and balance completing rights. While employers should not discriminate against employees because they hold certain religious views or beliefs this does not give them carte blanche to express those beliefs regardless on the impact on others. The employer also needs to act lawfully in respect of other employees with protected characteristics e.g. sex, sexual orientation or disabilities and not discriminate against them.

This is also highlights the important during the recruitment process to make it clear what duties are going to be involved for potential job applicants and be clear whether these are acceptable from the outset to avoid these potential area for conflict.

Q9. Is a ban on men having ponytails in the workplace discriminatory if it affects all men equally?

A: On the face of it this may not seem to be the case. However, in practice it may place Hindu men, who wear one as part of their religion, at a disadvantage. Unless the requirement can be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim ( for example health and safety grounds) it could well be discriminatory.

Q10. If an employer refuses a request for annual leave, from a man who identifies himself as a Jedi, to attend an annual Star Wars Convention. Has this employee been discriminated against?

A: Although philosophical beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010 to be a philosophical belief it must be all of the following:-

  • genuinely held
  • not just an opinion or point of view based on current information
  • a weighty substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • clear, logical, convincing, serious, important, and
  • worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity nor conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.

Although these requirements are arguably vague, it is widely accepted that veganism, humanism, atheism, a belief in the need to cut carbon emissions to prevent climate change would all be beliefs but this is not going to include Jedi Knights and therefore refusal for annual leave would not be discriminatory on this ground.