Sainsbury's | Churchgoer was sacked after refusing to work extra Sunday shifts, tribunal hears

Churchgoer was sacked after refusing to work extra Sunday shifts, tribunal hears

A churchgoer was sacked by Sainsbury's after she refused to work every Sunday morning, a tribunal has heard.

Jacqueline Rendell had worked for the supermarket for 20 years, and was contracted to work two Sundays a month until her contract was ripped up under apparent ‘fire and rehire’ tactics, resulting in a row over new shift patterns which would’ve prevented her from attending any Sunday masses.

Rendell, who worked at the Herne Bay store near Whitstable in the South East of England, has since been fighting to prove she was unfairly dismissed.

An employment tribunal heard how her issues began in October 2021, when Sainsbury’s reportedly used ‘fire and rehire’ tactics to end her contract and offer her a new one with a revised shift pattern. 

The panel heard her previous hours included one Sunday shift a fortnight, but she was suddenly expected to work every Sunday when the store implemented a one-week rota system instead of a fortnightly one.

Trying to save her role, Rendell tried to negotiate a job share arrangement with a colleague, until the idea was rejected by bosses. 

During mediation meetings, Rendell explained to Sainsbury’s management that the new schedule would interfere with her religious beliefs, as well as extra roles as a carer for her mother and a second job she held.

Representatives for Sainsbury’s told the employment tribunal that the changes to employee contracts were necessary as they did not have enough staff working weekends, and had no budget to hire extra workers to cover the gaps. They also insisted Rendell had been offered alternative roles which were rejected.

Rendell countered that none of the alternative job vacancies  were suitable.

An Employment Judge is set to publish a judgement on the proceedings in approximately five weeks. 

Religious rights at work 

According to the CIPD, 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. Protection is given to those with any religion, or any religious or philosophical beliefs as well as those without a religion or belief. There is no definitive list of religions or beliefs.

Very unusually, there may be an Occupational Requirement to employ a person of a particular religion. If so, certain exceptions from the law are permitted covering selection, promotion and training. The employer must be able to show that there’s a genuine need, taking account of the type of work.

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For example, an NHS Trust may seek a Roman Catholic healthcare chaplain who can administer end of life care prayers to Roman Catholic patients, whereas it would not be acceptable to specify that a hospital cleaner must be of the Catholic faith.

There’s also an exemption for 'employers with an ethos based on a religion or belief'. This allows employers to place advertisements for jobs requiring a person to be of specific religion as long as it can be objectively justified, which can be difficult to evidence robustly. The religious requirement must be crucial to the post.

In the retail and betting business only, there is a special right for employees to opt out of Sunday working by giving their employer three months’ written notice. Workers employed only to work on Sundays cannot opt out and agency staff are not included.

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Comments (1)

  • martin
    Wed, 8 Nov 2023 1:18pm GMT
    I remember when Sunday trading became law and it was promised then that nobody would be asked to work on Sundays, it would be a voluntary day. It was argued then that Sunday would quickly become just another working day for the vulnerable. With most 'voluntary 'arrangements, they are in fact compulsory and any extra pay that used to be available for workking Sundays and unsociable hours has completely disappeared.
    Ouside of the UK, I enjoy quiet Sundays

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