The broad scope of religious ‘belief’ protection in employment

18th June 2014

The broad scope of religious ‘belief’ protection in employment

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The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination based on their religious or philosophical belief or lack of one. The question for the Employment Tribunal in Anderson v Chesterfield High School was whether his “philosophical commitment to public service for the common good” fell within the legislative protection.

Mr Anderson worked as a Social Inclusion Officer at Chesterfield High School. When he became the leader of Liverpool City Council, he arranged with the school that he could have time off to fulfil his public duties. He went on to be elected Mayor, and the school terminated his employment.

This, Mr Anderson claimed, was direct discrimination. On the question of whether or not his belief in public service was protected by the Equality Act, the Tribunal held that it was because:

1. Mr Anderson genuinely held the belief;.

2. It was a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;

3. It was a belief about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;

4 The belief had a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and

5. The belief was worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and didn’t conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

While the Tribunal rejected his discrimination claim (a hypothetical comparator would have been treated in the same way), the case shows that “belief” can encompass positions which, at first glance, may not seem protected. The definition of a religious or philosophical belief is surprisingly wide.

For advice on an employment law issue, contact on of our employment lawyers on 01473 211121 or email employment@gotelee.co.uk.

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