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Christian factory worker wins religious discrimination claim after being fired for refusing to take off crucifix necklace

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In the case of Mr J Kovalkovs v 2 Sisters Food Group Limited Mr Kovalkovs was employed as a quality inspector in a chicken processing factory. Mr Kovalkovs is a Christian who follows the Russian Orthodox Church. His belief is that a crucifix necklace should be worn close to the chest to signify his commitment to his belief. He therefore wore a necklace every day. He underwent an induction training course at the start of his employment which included training on the Foreign Body Control policy. This outlined that “jewellery must not be worn in the production areas on site, with the exception of a single plan band ring”. A further exception was made for religious jewellery, subject to a risk assessment but such an assessment was never carried out by Kovalkovs’ supervisor during his induction.

Mr Kovalkovs then made a complaint about being bullied at work and was brought in for a meeting with another manager in January 2020 – where he wore the necklace. He was asked to remove it and then questioned whether a risk assessment had been carried out which he said had not, the tribunal was told.

His line manager, Ms McColl, was then ’embarrassed’ that this issue had been raised with her own boss and completed the risk assessment but was not ‘pleased’ with Mr Kovalkovs, the panel heard. The tribunal was told regarding the form she then completed: ‘There was no conversation with [him] as to whether any steps could be taken to mitigate the risk, such as ensuring that it was tucked into his clothing at all times, or that his PPE could be fastened up to ensure it was not exposed.

‘[She] admitted to [Mr Kovalkovs] that this was the first time she had applied this risk assessment and said that she wanted to take advice.’

Mr Kovalkovs went back to work before he was told to go and speak to Ms McColl where she concluded it must be removed because it contained links and could become tangled or trapped, the hearing was told. She then told him to take if off but he refused and was sent to HR where he was told that as he had not obeyed a management instruction and he was in his probationary period, his employment was ended ‘immediately’.

Upholding his claims, Employment Judge Louise Cowen concluded: ‘The application of the Foreign Body Control policy placed him at a disadvantage, as he would not be allowed to wear his necklace. It was clear to us that the claimant had lost a job as a result of the discrimination towards him’.

The panel awarded Mr Kovalkos £22,074.68.

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