A gavel at an Employment Tribunal

Employee wins £26,000 after being dismissed for observing religious holiday

A Jewish lawyer has been awarded more than £26,000 in compensation after he was sacked for not coming into work during a religious holiday. Philip Bialick had booked time off specifically to mark Passover, a Tribunal heard, but due to being ill for two weeks prior to the religious holiday his bosses insisted he return to work.

Passover is a major Jewish holiday observed around the world and no work is allowed on the first and final two days.

The Tribunal was told Bialick started working at NNE Law Ltd in January 2020 as a litigation executive. In February 2020 – two months before Passover – he booked nine days off to cover the religious holiday. At the end of March, shortly after the UK went into the first national COVID-19 lockdown, Bialick fell ill with a bad chest and cough and was told to stay at home for two weeks.

The company then sent him a letter that read:

"You have been off work since 30/03/2020 due to self-diagnosed flu like symptoms and it seems that your second isolation period will be ending on 08/04/2020, however we note that you have time booked off from 07/04 to 17/04. Due to company policy and our time sensitive nature of work we can no longer authorise this due to this resulting in your time away from the office permitted and the recent COVID-19 epidemic causing staffing issues."

The letter finished by reminding him he was expected in work on 9 April, the second day of Passover, when work is not permitted. Bialick replied, saying he was still feeling ill and explained that he was observing the Jewish festival so did not go in on 9 April. The Tribunal heard he was then sent a dismissal letter that day saying the company had been “left with no alternative” but to dismiss him.

Employment Judge Mark Leach concluded:

"Where Jewish employees wish to take holidays to enable religious observance, they need to book holidays from their unfixed statutory and/or contractual entitlement. The practice of cancelling holidays booked for that purpose or to face dismissal therefore requires Jewish employees to choose whether to work when they are not permitted to work or be dismissed. That places Jewish employees whose faith requires they do not work on certain days at a particular disadvantage when instructed to cancel annual leave."

Bialick was awarded £26,479.86 in compensation for indirect discrimination.

There are several different types of discrimination defined in the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination can be direct and indirect. Indirect is when an employer applies a policy or criteria to everyone but it disadvantages one of the protected groups and the individual making the claim.