Can Christian employees refuse to work on the bank holidays that are aligned to a Christian festival such as Easter?

If an employee is required to work on bank holidays under the terms of his or her employment contract, the employee cannot refuse to work, even for religious reasons. However, employers should be aware of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010, which protects workers against direct and indirect discrimination because of any religion, religious belief or philosophical belief.

While the Act does not say that employees have the right to time off for religious observance, a refusal to grant Christian employees time off for any of the bank holidays with religious significance could amount to indirect religious discrimination if it places them at a particular disadvantage when compared with employees of other faiths, or non-religious employees.

Indirect discrimination can be justified, and is therefore not unlawful, where employers can show that their decision to refuse the time off is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Employers should therefore ensure that they have a compelling business reason for refusing any request for leave for religious observance. Acas guidance, Religion or belief and the workplace, states that employers should be sympathetic to such requests where it is reasonable and practical for the employees to be away from work, and they have sufficient holiday entitlement in hand.