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11 August, 2005

Amending the fourth

I'm uncertain about this issue.  A 'devout' christian man was dismissed from his job for refusing to be available for work on Sundays.  I'm atheist, but I don't believe employers should be able to discriminate against employees on the basis of religion.

I feel strongly that shops and other businesses should operate exactly the same on Sundays as, say, on Wednesdays – in a secular society (by which I mean one where all faiths are accepted, but none have any role whatsoever in public life) no religion's 'special' day should have preferential status.

However, that doesn't automatically extend to individual employees – no-one should be obliged to perform a specific task or at a specific time offensive to his/her beliefs. That's respect for the individual's personal choice, irrespective of my indifference about the dogma behind it. Hence, I feel a shop should be open as normal on a Sunday, but staffed by assistants willing to work on that day.

Yet that identifies my contrary point: rationally, if a person is unwilling to work on a certain day, a company ought to be free to employ someone who will. An employee shouldn't be discriminated against on the basis of religion, but shouldn't receive artificially preferential treatment, either.

The complication is when, as in this case, a company changes its working practices, and an existing employee becomes affected. Should the employer be legally obliged to keep a 'liability'? Should the employee be forced to choose between his/her faith and job?

Though I don't know the specifics of the case, and it seems both the employer and employee could have exhibited greater flexibility, I'm reluctantly glad (?) that an employment tribunal, an employment appeal tribunal and the court of appeal all endorsed the company's action.

Comments

I totally agree with you. In a secular society, why should shops have to change their opening hours for Sundays?

It's even more noticable in Bradford. A number of Asian shops have had to change their Sunday opening hours because of a crackdown with Sunday Trading Laws. And yet I bet 95% of their customers are not Christian.

Posted by Neil T. at August 12, 2005 05:39 PM
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