Christians And Sunday Employment Legislation

I am saddened by the reports on Thursday of the South London Christian Celestina Mba who lost a case for constructive dismissal against Merton Council, which she claimed on the grounds of being forced to work Sundays. Much as I care about Ms Mba’s distress regarding her faith, was she right? She worked helping children with severe learning difficulties. Surely the Council was right that they needed care seven days a week. Does this not fall within Jesus’ call to ‘do good on the Sabbath’?

Is it not quite different from the 2005 case of Stephen Copsey, where he lost because the quarrying company he worked for trumped his religious beliefs with economic justification? That one looks like the idolatry of money; sadly, Ms Mba’s case looks nothing like that.

Or am I wrong? Have I missed something?

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About Dave Faulkner

I'm a British Methodist minister, married with two children. I blog from a moderate evangelical-missional-charismatic perspective, with an interest in the 'missional' approach. My interests include Web 2.0, digital photography, contemporary music and watching football (Tottenham Hotspur) and cricket.

Posted on February 25, 2012, in Current Affairs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I agree with you, Christians in the caring professions have always worked on Sunday’s.

  2. I think the judgement was both legally right and ethically I agree it falls within Jesus’ call to do good on the Sabbath. The Sabbath principle is to rest from work one day in seven. Presumably Celestina Mba was not required by her employer to work seven days a week. Hopefully she was not expected to work every Sunday.

  3. Interesting case. Firstly I must confess that in my “employment life” which ended with voluntary early severance last summer, I never had to work on a Sunday.

    There is no question to me that Sunday is the normal day of rest and worship for a Christian. But there is surely some scope under a covenant of grace rather than works for flexibility . What I see as non negotiable is that one day in seven is a day for worship and rest. That is a creation ordinance and arguabl;y a demonstratable need. And as you say Ms Mba is undertaking work of caring and mercy which is a 24/7 need, so an occaisional rostering of Sunday work surely fits in that context, providing she receives another day off. Incidentally, one feature of many Anglican churches is that there is one or more midwekk services, whether Communion or one of the Offices.

    From a legal viewpoint it is pertinent to reflect what constitutes an enforceable undertaking. When I did contract law in my accountancy training, we were taught that written contracts were essential in only a few instances. Word of mouth was otherwise acceptable, provided it could be demonstrated to a court to the required level of proof. I could not comment in ignorance of the facts, whether the tribunal adequately explored the claims here, but I am not sure that lack of a written undertaking is by iteself sufficient evidence in the Council’s defence. Also the question of a Muslim receiving time off on a Friday. I find the claim by the Council that this was not religous rather thin and extrordinary. Assuming it was based on religion then Ms Mba has a possible basis to claim for discrimination.

    I would see both the above as possible grounds for appeal. With so many open attacks in recent weeks, the latest including Lynn Featherstone’s disingenious misquoting of George Carey, I await developments with interest.

  4. All my jobs in social care required me to do some of my shifts on a Sunday. I didn’t have too many problems with this; it was more that I missed church and Christian fellowship on a Sunday, rather than that I thought working was a sin. When I was on night shift, I could at least go to our evening service first. That still wan’t ideal as most things happened in the morning, but it was something.

    I’m sure that if the lady in question had had a medical emergency on a Sunday she would be glad that someone was there to treat her. I’m also sure that she would have been pleased to find a Christian member of staff. And what about clergy – they work on a Sunday to make sure the rest of us have our worship services and/or communion.

    That said, she must have been allowed at least 1 day off a week and it probably wouldn’t have been a great hardship for her employers to let her have Sunday as that day; especially if she offered to work any other hours. It may not have been her right, but a little understanding wouldn’t have gone amiss.

  5. I haven’t read the judgment. I’ve had a Google alert for stories about this case for the past fortnight, but this is the first time I’ve posted a comment. That’s how interested I am – not!

    I suspect that it was wrong for Ms Mba’s legal team to argue this case as a religious rights case in the first place.

    My sympathies are with the plaintiff, all the same. By all accounts, this energetic 57 year-old person-of-ethnicity was working a seven days week anyway. It’s just that on Sundays, she was busy doing God’s work, free of charge. Praise God that He even saves workaholics. On the grounds that a change is as good as a rest, I find that acceptable, even as a Christian who is pleased that “the sabbath is made for man”, and who doesn’t presently have a day job at all.

    Ms Mba had allegedly said she wasn’t free on Sundays at job interview, three years earlier, but had been offered the job despite this, and had held down the job for three years without having to give up her Sunday hobby, and even now was confident of being able to persuade colleagues to swap shifts with her often enough to avoid wrecking totally her long-established Sunday hobby habits completely.

    I suspect that there was a hidden agenda at work, when her employers moved the goalposts, to make her choose between giving up her Sunday hobby, or giving up the job they had offered her, knowing about her Sunday habits. An agenda that never came out at the hearing. An anti-Christian agenda? Perhaps. We shall likely never know, until the Lord returns.

    There are some really serious attacks afoot nowadays on our freedoms. There is also a great deal of hostility towards Christianity, so much so that certain atheists rejoice when “they” attack our freedoms, forgetting that these are exactly the same freedoms as the atheists enjoy, until “there is no-one left” (to paraphrase Niemoller). I am a great fan (and a slight critic) of the Christian activism that regularly picks up on these developments. But I am sceptical as to whether this particular case was a case that should have been pleaded in the way it was. Perhaps if I’d read the judgment, I’d change my tune. Has anybody found a link to the full judgment yet?

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