The European Court of Justice: Good Friday is for everyone
Granting Good Friday paid leave or holiday supplements only those workers belonging to a particular religion is discriminatory, according to The European Court of Justice. In the judgment of January 22nd of 2019, the Court finds that national legislation, under which, first, Good Friday is a public holiday only for employees who are members of certain Christian churches and, second, only those employees are entitled, if required to work on that public holiday, to additional payment, constitutes direct discrimination on grounds of religion.
In Austria, there is a provision according to which Good Friday is a paid holiday only for the members of the Evangelical Churches of the Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions, the Old Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church. Anyone who works as a member of one of these churches on Good Friday receives a holiday allowance, while all other employees receive only their regular wages.
The employee Markus Achatzi, who does not belong to any of these churches, had worked that day. He sued his employer for payment of the holiday pay. He does not receive the contract only because he does not belong to any of the churches mentioned. This is discrimination based on religious affiliation.
The Supreme Court, as the last competent court, has referred the case to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling. He asks whether the above provision infringes the principle of non-discrimination. The ECJ answers this clearly and unequivocally: there is direct discrimination because employees are treated differently due to their religious affiliation. Although Good Friday is an important holiday for employees who belong to a Christian religion, the exemption would not be earmarked – for example, participation in a church service, but solely because of belonging to a church. Employees can also use the holiday for general recreation while other religions have no comparable protection.
An inadmissible unequal treatment is also the case since the law protects only Christian religions. A religion-specific exemption could be justified only if this also applies to the members of other religious communities. However, since there are no comparable regulations for Jews and Muslims, for example, Austria cannot rely on the protection of religious freedom.
Accordingly, all private employers are now obliged to grant all employees the right to a holiday on Good Friday. At least when they demand it. Employers who refuse an exemption must pay the holiday supplement for work on that day. This applies in any case until the state of Austria has established a non-discriminatory regulation.
At present, there are several religious holidays included in the current Labor Code of Republic of Lithuania: Easter, Assumption of Mary, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas. However, it should be noted, that holidays are granted to all persons, despite their religion, and employees can be assigned work during holidays only subject to their consent, except as provided in the employment or collective agreement.