Labour Research May 2004

Features: Law queries

Religious discrimination

I am a union rep in my workplace. Am I right in thinking that there is a new EU law which means that no-one can be made to work on a Sunday if it is a day that is special to their religion? I have a member who is a committed Christian and who has been asked to work on a Sunday. She says that her religion expressly forbids this.

You are right in thinking that new legislation, effective from 2 December 2003, makes discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief unlawful - but it is not quite as comprehensive as you suggest.

The law says that a provision (such as a requirement to work on a Sunday) that puts someone of a particular religious belief at a disadvantage can only be enforced if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This is another way of saying that your employer can require Sunday working if there is a good reason for requiring it.

There is also legislation, dating back to the 1980s, that protects shop workers who were in post at the time from having to work on a Sunday - but the fact that it is limited to one sector, together with the passage of time, means that few workers are covered by it.

* More information: Regulation 3, Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003; see also Labour Research, December 2003