Sacked | Worker's sacking over crucifix necklace shows how easily employment laws can be broken

Worker's sacking over crucifix necklace shows how easily employment laws can be broken

An employee who was sacked for refusing to remove their crucifix necklace at work has been awarded more than £22,000, after an employment tribunal ruled that the firing amounted to religious discrimination.

Jevgenijs Kovalkovs had his employment with 2 Sisters Food Group terminated after rejecting boss’s demands for him to remove the cross because it had a “deep and profound meaning” and demonstrated a “commitment to his belief”.

An employment tribunal heard that Kovalkovs, who worked as a quality inspector at the firm’s factory in Scotland, was told the necklace was a health and safety hazard, but he remained committed to his view that the necklace formed part of his identity as a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Following this, a meeting with HR was scheduled, during which Kovalkovs was told that his employment was being terminated for refusing to obey a management instruction. As he was still within his probationary period, he was sacked on the spot.

Kovalkov took the matter to an employment tribunal and has now been awarded 22,074.68 after the judge found the sacking was 'indirectly discriminatory'.

“It was clear to us that the claimant had lost a job as a result of the discrimination towards him," Employment Judge Louise Cowen ruled.

“His religion and the wearing of his necklace were of deep and profound meaning to him.”

What HR should know about religious discrimination

While bosses at 2 Sisters Food Group felt they had grounds to prevent their employee from wearing a religious symbol, the judge's ruling shows just how easy it can be to fall on the wrong side of the law.

Religion and belief discrimination is illegal in the UK and is listed as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. It arises when someone is unfairly disadvantaged for reasons related to their religion or their beliefs.

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Acas advised: “Employers, managers, HR personnel, employees and their employee or trade union representatives should make sure they understand: Religion or belief discrimination, key points for the workplace, what religion or belief discrimination is and how it can happen, their rights and responsibilities the employer’s policy for preventing discrimination, and what behaviour and actions are unacceptable such as derogatory comments about an employee’s religion or belief.

"Also, employers and employees should be very careful regarding questions related to an individual’s religion or belief, as these might be or become discriminatory, particularly if they are intrusive or handled insensitively.

"It can be beneficial for an employer to offer all staff a grounding in religion or belief in the workplace. Further, an employer should provide training for all staff in constructively developing their understanding of each other. In the organisation, these steps can help foster good relations and prevent discrimination."

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