“LANDMARK JUDGMENT: UPHOLDING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN EMPLOYMENT – OJUNG’A V HEALTHLINK MATCARE LTD”
In a recent judgment on June 29, 2023, the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nairobi ruled in the case of Ojung’a v Healthlink Matcare Ltd t/a Nairobi Women Hospital (Cause 1620 of 2018)  KEELRC 1607 (KLR). The court upheld Article 32 of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, which safeguards freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and opinion in the employer-employee relationship.
The judgment, delivered by Hon. Mr. Justice. Bernard O. M. Manani, emphasized that employers have an obligation as duty bearers to respect their employees’ religious freedom. Therefore, terminating an employee’s contract without valid reason, especially if it impedes their constitutional right, is not justifiable.
The case revolved around the employee, a practicing Seventh Day Adventist, who considered Saturdays as sacred for her faith and requested to be excused from work on those days. An agreement was reached with her employer for her to work on the first Saturday of each month and compensate by working on Sundays instead.
In 2018, the employee failed to attend a crucial meeting, citing that she had already worked on the first Saturday. The employer argued that due to her role, she should have understood her obligation to work when necessary. The employer contended that special treatment based on faith could be discriminatory.
Ultimately, the court examined whether the termination was lawful. It determined that the employee’s religious freedom was central, emphasizing that matters of religion are significant in Kenya. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and opinion, with limitations outlined in Article 24.
The court acknowledged the importance of the missed meeting but stressed the equal significance of the employee’s religious freedom. It ruled that the termination based on her failure to attend the meeting on her designated prayer day was unfair, unlawful, discriminatory, and a violation of her religious freedom.
This decision establishes a precedent for cases of unlawful termination due to religious discrimination, allowing for maximum compensation in extreme instances. Employers are now unequivocally burdened to uphold their employees’ right to religious freedom under Article 32 of the Constitution and preserve their human dignity in the workplace.