Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Another warning to employers to pro-actively avoid any form of unfair discrimination comes from a Labour Court’s award of compensation to an employee found to have been discriminated against because of her religion.

Discrimination and automatic unfairness

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) renders dismissal automatically unfair if the reason for dismissal is – amongst others – discrimination, direct or indirect, “on any arbitrary ground, including, but not limited to race, gender, sex, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, political opinion, culture, language, marital status or family responsibility.”

However “a dismissal may be fair if the reason for dismissal is based on an inherent requirement of the particular job”.

Forced to work on the Sabbath

  • A company manager refused to participate in stock-taking on Saturdays because as a Seventh-day Adventist she was unable to work on a “Sabbath” (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset).
  • She had however participated in stock-taking on other days, she had worked overtime outside the Sabbath, and her employer was generally satisfied with her work.
  • A senior manager had been derogatory in public about her religious affiliation.
  • Although her contract of employment obliged her to work overtime as and when necessary, it did not specify that stock-takes were scheduled for Saturdays nor that she was to work overtime on Saturdays.
  • She was awarded compensation of R60,000 for unfair discrimination, the Court dismissing the employer’s defences that the dismissal was based on incapacity rather than religious discrimination, that Saturday stock-takes were an essential requirement of the job itself, and that the employee’s dignity had not been impaired because the senior manager’s abuse was a once-off event.