Christian woman Celestina Mba to sue for right not to work on Sundays

Celestina Mba will argue this week at the Court of Appeal that bosses must ‘reasonably accommodate’ employees’ religious believes

Adam Withnall
Sunday 20 October 2013 18:31
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A devout Christian woman is set to fight for her right not to work on Sunday this week when her case is heard at the Court of Appeal.

Celestina Mba, 58, lost her job as a children’s care worker with Merton Council after bosses said they could not guarantee that she would not be put on Sunday shifts.

She is set to argue that an employer has a duty to “reasonably accommodate” the religious beliefs of an employee – in her case, allowing her to observe the Sabbath as a day of rest.

This week’s proceedings are seen as a test case which, if Ms Mba is successful, could also see Jewish people guaranteed time off work from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and Muslims allowed to observe Fridays as a day of worship.

Shop-workers are already guaranteed the right not to work on Sundays if they don’t want to, but employers in other sectors can require people to work if they can prove there is a legitimate business need.

Ms Mba has already failed to bring a case for constructive dismissal against Merton Council, and is seeking to have the decision of that employment tribunal overturned.

Her lawyers are expected to use in their argument the recent case won by a British Airways employee at the European Court of Human Rights, in which she won the right to wear a crucifix at work.

That case set the precedent that Ms Mba needs only to prove that she believes in the Sabbath being a day of rest – under the fourth of the 10 commandments in the Old Testament – not that it is a belief held by the majority of Christians.

She told The Sunday Times: “We have so many different faiths in this society. I am standing up for my beliefs, not for anybody else’s. I am not imposing them on anybody else.”

Andrea Williams, who founded the Christian Legal Centre which is backing Ms Mba, said: “We are seeing secular courts ruling on core components of Christian practice.

“The courts have acted to protect the kara bracelet [worn by Sikhs], Afro cornrow haircuts, the wearing of the hijab and a Muslim’s right to fast, but have refused to grant protection to the cross or the Christian Sunday.”

Since leaving Merton Council, Ms Mba has found a new job in Surbiton, southwest London, in which she is allowed to take Sundays and Mondays off.

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