A recent ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal serves as a reminder to organisations to know their obligations when it comes to religion in the workplace.
Organisations are being urged not to overlook their obligations under the Human Rights Act in the wake of a recent case.
The Human Rights Tribunal has awarded a Seventh Day Adventist man $40,000 after he was fired for refusing to work on Saturdays because it was against his faith.
Mark Meulenbroek had worked since 2004 at Invercargill company Vision Antenna and was considered a model employee. In 2011, he rejoined the Seventh Day Adventist Church which he'd attended until he was 16, and wanted to have Saturday off so he could observe the Sabbath.
His boss gave him some Saturdays off, but not all, and in September 2012 fired him when he refused to work on the Sabbath.
The Human Rights Review Tribunal found Vision had discriminated against Meulenbroek and had no appreciation of its obligations under the Human Rights Act.
It found Vision hadn't considered Meulenbroek's reason a "good explanation" for getting Saturdays off and that Vision had failed to establish that accommodating Meulenbroek’s religion (by allowing him not to work Saturdays) would have unreasonably disrupted thier business activities.
Director of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings Robert Kee, who represented Meulenbroek, said the case is an important warning, especially for small-to-medium businesses, who be unaware of their Human Rights Act obligations.
“This is a case about the right of an employee not to be discriminated against by their employer on the ground of religion,” he said. “This is an important decision as it demonstrates employers’ obligations under the Human Rights Act, which are often overlooked, particularly by small to medium sized businesses.”
The Tribunal’s judgement noted that Vision is a small company without a human resources department and without access to other resources typical in larger operations. It did not know of, or comprehend its obligations, under the Human Rights Act. It also noted that unless the relevant provisions of the Human Rights Act are understood and diligently applied, financial consequences of a potentially substantial nature can follow and that the need to take properly informed advice must be emphasised.
The tribunal told Vision to pay Mr Meulenbroek $40,000 - $25,000 damages for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings and $15,000 for pecuniary loss.
The decision may yet be appealed.