Christian factory worker fired on the spot for refusing to take off cross necklace

The 2 Sister plant in Coupar Angus, where Jevgenijs Kovalkovs worked
The 2 Sister plant in Coupar Angus, where Jevgenijs Kovalkovs worked

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 said wearing the cross, which was a gift from his mother, signified a “commitment to his belief”.

However, he was asked to take it off by his line manager, as she felt it was 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”.

Employment ended ‘immediately’

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

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 judgment 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.

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 said to be “embarrassed” that this issue had been raised with her own boss, but completed the risk assessment.

Mr Kovalkovs went back to work before he was told to go and speak to Ms McColl, who 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 it off. However, he refused and was sent to HR. He was told that as he had not obeyed a management instruction and was in his probationary period, his employment was ended “immediately”.

The panel found his dismissal 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 that it was clear Mr Kovalkovs “had lost a job as a result of the discrimination towards him”.

She added: “His religion and the wearing of his necklace were of deep and profound meaning to him.”

In 2013, a British Airways employee won a landmark legal battle to wear a crucifix at work.

Nadia Eweida won her case against British Airways - Yui Mok/PA Wire
Nadia Eweida won her case against British Airways – Yui Mok/PA Wire

Nadia Eweida took her case to the European Court of Human Rights, after BA made her stop wearing her white gold cross “visibly”.

The court ruled her rights had been violated under article nine of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A Coupar Angus spokesman said: “We note today’s judgment and at this stage cannot comment any further.”

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