A devout Christian children’s care worker, Celestina Mba, launched a test case in the Court of Appeal last week regarding her right not to work on a Sunday. Ms Mba resigned from Brightwell children’s home when her employer, Merton Council, could no longer accommodate her request not to work Sundays.
Earlier this year, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that the requirement to work on Sundays could amount to indirect discrimination. In Ms Mba’s case however, it upheld the Employment Tribunal’s decision that the requirement for care workers to work the Sunday shift was justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and therefore there was no indirect discrimination. In upholding the Tribunal’s decision it could be argued that the EAT failed to protect Ms Mba’s right to manifest her religious beliefs in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ms Mba is now appealing for the EAT’s decision to be overturned for rejecting her claim for constructive unfair dismissal. Three of Britain’s most senior judges will decide whether employers have a duty to provide “reasonable accommodation” for the beliefs of Christian workers. In light of the case won in January this year by a British Airways employee in which she was given the right to wear her crucifix at work, Ms Mba’s solicitors are expected to argue that Ms Mba only needs to prove that she believes in the Sabbath being the day of rest, not that the belief is held by all Christians. Ms Mba stated prior to the appeal hearing that “the courts have acted to protect the kara bracelet, Afro cornrow haircuts, the wearing of the hijab and a Muslim’s right to fast but have refused to grant protection to the cross or the Christian Sunday”.
A ruling in Ms Mba’s favour could lead to many claims by followers of other religions to not work on their holy days.