Case in point: the complexities of dealing with racial and religious discrimination claims
Pannone Corporate
26/05/2021

Background

The employee, who is of Pakistani descent and her religion is Islam, was working for a food retail company in the sales team. She pursued a claim for direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her race and religion for various matters, including: 

  • That she had higher targets than her colleagues and her concerns regarding this were ignored;
  • That she was not awarded a salary increase;
  • That her manager treated her differently to her colleagues in the way he addressed any performance concerns with her; and 
  • That her manager asked her to pick up an item that went against her religious belief, namely a pork product, and allegedly laughed at her when she said it was against her religious belief.

Some of the allegations relied upon were outside of the Tribunal’s time limit, however the Tribunal had to consider all of the allegations to understand whether time should be extended on the basis that the treatment complained of was a ‘continuing act’. 

The ruling

All of the employee’s allegations failed. The Tribunal found that she was not treated differently because of her religious beliefs, nor was she forced to pick up an item that went against her belief or laughed at when she informed her manager that it was against her beliefs.

 Why is it important?

The case is a useful reminder that if a poorly performing employee is the only individual within the company of a certain race or religion, this will not necessarily translate into a claim if an employer can clearly evidence the underperformance.

The allegation that the employee was asked to purchase and handle an item of food that went against her religion is of particular interest. It’s likely that many employers in the food and hospitality industry will come across employees who adhere to certain values or beliefs. This may mean that they don’t consume or handle certain food or drink items for this reason, but who would be expected to handle such items during the ordinary course of their employment. 

This case serves to demonstrate that employers should be aware that there could be a risk of discriminating against employees if they are asked to handle items that go against their religious beliefs and they should be mindful of this when allocating tasks. 

The saving grace for the employer in this case is that no pressure was put on the employee to purchase or handle the pork product. In fact, when the manager in question was informed that this request went against the employee’s religion, he immediately told her he could organise for someone else to source this product, but the employee said she would be willing to do it provided her contact with the item was minimal.

If you would like to discuss any employment related concerns within your workforce, contact Katie Kennedy on Katie.Kennedy@pannonecorporate.com or call 07711 767099.

 

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