Christian factory worker wins £22,000 after being fired to refusing to take off crucifix


Christian factory worker wins £22,000 for religious discrimination after being fired to refusing to take off crucifix necklace that was gift from his mother

  • Jevgenijs Kovalkovs was sacked after he refused to take off his crucifix at work
  • 2 Sisters Food Group claimed the necklace was a ‘hazard’ at their wholesalers
  • The jewellery has been blessed and had a ‘profound’ meaning for Mr Kovalkovs 
  • A tribunal has now awarded him over £22,000 for religious discrimination 

A Christian factory worker has won more than £22,000 for religious discrimination after being fired for refusing to take off a crucifix necklace.

Jevgenijs Kovalkovs felt wearing the cross – which was a gift from his mother – close to the chest signified his ‘commitment to his belief’.

But he was asked to take it off by his line manager as she felt it was deemed a ‘hazard’ at the chicken wholesalers where he worked, an employment tribunal heard.

Mr Kovalkovs, a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, was later seen wearing it again at the factory but refused to take off the jewellery which had a ‘deep and profound meaning’ to him.

He was then fired on the spot for disobeying orders.

He sued the company and has now been awarded £22,074.68 after the tribunal found the policy and its application was ‘indirectly discriminatory’.

The hearing was told Mr Kovalkovs joined 2 Sisters Food Group Limited in Coupar Angus, Scotland in November 2019 and was quickly promoted to the role of quality inspector.

Jevgenijs Kovalkovs felt wearing the cross - which was a gift from his mother - close to the chest signified his ‘commitment to his belief’

Jevgenijs Kovalkovs felt wearing the cross – which was a gift from his mother – close to the chest signified his ‘commitment to his belief’

At work he wore a white coat over his clothes while lanyards, identity passes and keys were worn by Mr Kovalkov’s colleagues around their necks, the tribunal heard.

The hearing, held in Dundee, heard Mr Kovalkovs wore the silver necklace, which had 30 small links, every day and that it had been sanctified during a baptism ceremony for his godchild.

However, the company’s Foreign Body Control policy stated: ‘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’, the panel heard.

On the first day of his promotion in December 2019 his line manager – named in the tribunal judgement only as Ms McColl – noticed the necklace and told him to take it off which he did.

However, she did not carry out a risk assessment as she felt the issue had been dealt with, the panel heard.

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.

But Mr Kovalkovs was asked to take it off by his line manager at 2 Sisters Food Group as she felt it was deemed a ‘hazard’, an employment tribunal heard

But Mr Kovalkovs was asked to take it off by his line manager at 2 Sisters Food Group as she felt it was deemed a ‘hazard’, an employment tribunal heard

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 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’.

In his February 2020 dismissal letter, the reason given for his sacking was his disobedience with the panel finding it focused ‘entirely’ on the fact that Mr Kovalkovs had not declared the necklace during his induction course when he joined the firm.

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.

‘His religion and the wearing of his necklace were of deep and profound meaning to him.’

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