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Q: A job applicant has asked if he can leave early each week because, as a practising Orthodox Jew, he feels unable to attend work after sunset on Fridays. Is our refusal a breach of his human rights? A: Employers may encounter requests from employees for time off work to celebrate a particular religious festival, or for time off during the working day to pray. In this case, the applicant might have a claim for race discrimination, as Jews have been held to constitute a racial group within the definitions of the RRA 1976. His claim would be for indirect race discrimination because the job offer was subject to a condition that considerably fewer Jewish employees would be able to comply with than employees of another race. The employer would be able to defend its position if it could show that the condition was objectively justified for business purposes. In the few reported cases where such a claim has been made, the condition has been found to be justified. An example of indirect race discrimination against employees of a religious group occurred in the case of J H Walker Ltd V Hussain and Others [1996] IRLR 11. A group of Muslim employees were refused time off work during the Islamic festival of Eid due to a peak in the company’s workload. This was despite the fact that they had offered to work extra hours to make up for the time off. Despite the company’s instructions, a large number of Muslim employees took time off work anyway and were consequently issued with final written warnings. An employment tribunal upheld the employees’ claim for indirect race discrimination on the grounds that the company’s requirement for all employees to work over Eid had a disproportionate adverse effect on Asian workers as compared to non-Asian workers. The tribunal judged that the employer had been unable to objectively justify the refusal to allow the time off.

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