M&S, Muslim employees and the tricky issue of reasonable accommodation

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 10.26.46Retailer Marks & Spencer is in the news again, and not this time for its Christmas advert. The ad was, incidentally, filmed in Temple – perhaps M&S bigwigs were on their way to getting some advice on how to deal with Muslim employees who didn’t want to serve pork and alcohol?

Anyway, the retailer has allowed Muslim employees to opt out of the requirement to serve pork and alcohol, both of which their religion prohibits – although it is not clear whether they are also prohibited from serving the products to other Muslims/non-Muslims. If Islam is anything like Judaism, which I am more familiar with, I imagine the practice may vary according to communities.

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Christian care worker loses Sunday working discrimination appeal – Richard Wayman

300px-Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_014Mba v London Borough Of Merton [2013] EWCA Civ 1562 – Read judgment

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal of a Christian care worker against the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that a requirement that she work on Sundays indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of religion or belief.

The Court unanimously found that although both the EAT and the Employment Tribunal (ET) had erred in law, the ET’s decision was ‘plainly and unarguably right’ [24], and applying the principle in Dobie v Burns International Security (UK) Limited [1984] ICR 812, the errors did not make any difference to the outcome.

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EU employment rights law trumps diplomatic immunity – what next?

European-Union-Flag_1Benkharbouche v Embassy of the Republic of Sudan (Jurisdictional Points: State Immunity) [2013] UKEAT 0401_12_0410 4 October 2013 – read judgment

These appeals, heard at the same time, raise the question whether someone employed in the UK by a foreign diplomatic mission as a member of its domestic staff may bring a claim to assert employment rights against the country whose mission it is, despite being met by an assertion of State Immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978. The EAT regarded itself bound by the supremacy of EU law to disapply the SIA, despite the fact that it had no jurisdiction to do so under the 1998 Human Rights Act.

This is the first time that the full force of the rights contained in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms has made itself felt in a domestic dispute between private parties (although the embassies themselves are state institutions, as an employment dispute the matter is one of private law only). If upheld on appeal, this ruling will have consequences that extend far beyond the somewhat esoteric area of the immunity of diplomatic missions, and will make the effect of the Human Rights Act look puny by comparison (as pointed out by Joshua Rozenberg  in his post on this case). Continue reading

Surrogacy and maternity rights

Pregnant_woman_silhouette.pngC-363/12: A Government Department and the Board of Management of a Community School – read AG Wahl’s opinion

Case C‑167/12 : C.D. v S.T. - read AG Kokott’s opinion 

Two opinions from Luxembourg on exactly the same issue, with diametrically opposed conclusions. AG Wahl (male) says, in brief, that the Pregnancy Workers Directive does what it says on the tin. It does not apply to non-pregnant employees, even though one of these might be an “intended mother” i.e. a woman who for medical reasons cannot carry a pregnancy to term, who has commissioned a surrogacy.  AG Kokott (female)  concludes firmly that the Pregnancy Workers Directive was designed to protect the relationship between mothers and their unborn or newborn, whether naturally produced or arranged by surrogacy.  These opinions were published on the same day, with no mention in either of the other case. We can only conclude that the AGs read each other’s drafts, and decided to go to press with them together, leaving the CJEU to reconcile them in some way or another.

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No trade unions for clergy if the Archbishop says no, rules European Court

priestSindacutul ‘Pastorul Cel Bun’ v. Romania [2013] ECHR 646 – read judgment here.

The Orthodox Archbishop of Craiova in Romania, that is, not the Archbishop of Canterbury. The European Court of Human Rights recently handed down an interesting ruling on Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) that could also have more far-reaching consequences for the application of Article 9 (freedom of religion).

The Grand Chamber, overruling the earlier decision of the Third Section, held by a majority that it was not a breach of the right to freedom of association for the Romanian Government to refuse to register a trade union formed by a group of Orthodox priests, after the Archbishop and Holy Synod (the governing body of the Romanian Orthodox Church) had decided formal trade unions should not be allowed within the church.

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A historic leap forward for equal pay claimants?

Money purse - WalletDumfries and Galloway -v- North [2013] UKSC 45 - Read judgment

Yesterday’s much heralded equal pay ‘victory’ in the Supreme Court (see BBC Report) undoubtedly will be good news for the specific female claimants in the case who seek to vindicate their European Union rights to equal pay.

The female claimants do so by comparing their pay with male colleagues working in entirely distinct parts of the same local authority (being Dumfries and Galloway Council) but arguably on common terms and conditions of employment (often referred to as the ‘same employment’ test).

However, in legal terms, arguably the unanimous Judgment delivered by Lady Hale in the Supreme Court is not quite so revolutionary. Many practitioners, outside Scotland at least, had anticipated its outcome.

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Unison to Judicially Review ‘Brutal’ Employment Tribunal Fees – Lauren Godfrey

unison-logo-1News that Unison has applied for Judicial Review of the Government’s controversial plans to introduce fees in the Employment Tribunal has gone viral in the Labour Law community.  A key theme in the application is access to justice for working people, particularly women.

Unison has described the proposed fees of up to£1000 for individuals to bring a claim and have that claim determined in the Employment Tribunals as ”brutal”.

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