After being dismissed following Passover absence Jewish worker wins £26K

After losing his law firm job for failing to attend work during a religious holiday, a Jewish worker has been awarded more than £26,000 by an employment tribunal.

Mr Bialick was previously employed as a litigation executive for a Manchester-based firm NNE Law. He is of orthodox Jewish faith and observes Jewish Holidays very strictly, some of which state that no work is permitted.

On 24th March 2020 relations with his boss became strained when Mr Bialick did not arrive at the office. The reason given was the prime minister’s direction that everyone should stay home unless for essential work. This was to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

Although the firm deemed Mr Bialick’s work as essential and urged him to come into the office, Mr Bialick did not return at that date. Despite expressing his reservations and fears at returning, Mr Bialick came back to work on 25th and 26thMarch. He did, however fear that he would lose his job.

Mr Bialick began to feel unwell on his return home from work on 26th March. He contacted the NHS and was informed that he should remain at home. 

He contacted his employer regarding this matter on 27th and sent a copy of the isolation letter which stated that he would be isolating up to and including 1st April.

He forwarded a second note which extended the period till 8th April.

The previous year in February Mr Bialick had booked his annual leave for Passover in April 2020 and his request had been approved at that time.

Included in his request for certain days off were 8th and 9th April. These days are very important days in the Jewish calendar, and he is not permitted to work on those days.

Mr Bialick received a letter from his employer on 8th April. It was dated 2nd April and challenged his unauthorised absence on 24th March. The letter also noted that although he had been self-isolating, the company could no longer authorise his annual leave between 7th April and 17th April. 

The reason for this was due to company policy and the fact that the pandemic had caused the company to have staffing issues.

The letter concluded by saying that they looked forward to him returning to work on 9/4/2020.

The tribunal was told that NNE Law had in place a company policy which insisted on no more than two weeks out of the office.

This policy stated that even when vacation time was booked and agreed, it meant that if an employee was away from the office for more than two weeks, they would be required to cancel the holiday they had booked. Mr Bialick stated that he was not aware of the policy.

Mr Bialick emailed the company regarding his annual leave and said that it had been for religious reasons. He wrote that he hoped the company would continue to honour this. He added that he would return to the office when his health permitted as his Covid-19 symptoms had not subsided.

The claimant made a point of telling the company that he was in fact also breaking his religious observance on 8th April by even replying to the letter. He had not wanted to reply but decided that he would in order to ask for his religious observance to be respected.

A short time later Mr Bialick received a letter dated 9th April 2020 dismissing him with no further contact or discussion.

‘As you have decided not to come to work, we are left with no other option but to end your employment contract with NNE Law. We will send you your P45 shortly. We wish you all the best.’

The tribunal ruled that the policy of staff required to cancel holidays if they had been absent from work for two weeks placed employees who observed religious holidays at a disadvantage. There are many Christian festivals in the UK which are public holidays so the policy might not affect all staff fairly.

The policy of cancelling holidays booked for religious purposes or the option of facing dismissal when choosing whether they worked when not permitted or faced dismissal was placing Jewish workers at a disadvantage.

Jewish employees whose faith requires them to abstain from work on certain days were particularly disadvantaged when they were instructed to cancel annual leave.

The tribunal noted that while NNE Law’s policy had a ‘legitimate aim’ for meeting the needs of clients, no evidence was forthcoming that those client needs were not being met when they had dismissed Mr Bialick.

At the hearing, NNE Law had not given any example or instance when a court deadline was missed due to Mr Bialick’s absence. The tribunal found that the claimant was well organised and up to date.

The tribunal felt that the company could have found less discriminatory ways of meeting any legitimate aim. This might have included sharing work calendars with other staff members, postponements, or time extensions, and as a last resort hiring a locum.

Mr Bialick’s claim for indirect discrimination on religious grounds was successful, although his complaint about unlawful deductions from wages was dismissed.

Mr Bialick will receive compensation of £26,479.86 which includes awards for loss of earnings and injury to feelings.


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