A Rose by Any Other Name…Would be Just as Controversial

If you’ve been trying to keep abreast of all the political drama taking place across the country, you may have noticed a somewhat trivial news piece about Stockport Market today. The crux of the story is that officials had supposedly attempted to ban the handing out of red roses by market traders on St George’s day, something that had become quite traditional over the years.

But why, you ask? Well, as it turns out, the Liberal-Democrat run council were less than impressed with the handing out of flowers that represented the logo of their political rivals, the Labour Party. Luckily for the residents of Stockport this attempt to quash tradition was unsuccessful following a number of complaints from residents, but it does raise some interesting questions about beliefs in the workplace.

In the UK we don’t have any specific protection from discrimination based on our political affiliations, however we might do if we possess a substantial belief in a particular political philosophy or doctrine. This was shown in the case of Oliver v The Department of Work and Pensions, where an employee that possessed a strong belief in “democratic socialism” was entitled to bring a claim on the basis that this amounted to a philosophical belief.

It doesn’t just stop at politics, however. More regularly, discrimination cases relating to particular beliefs will involve religion. Ever the contentious topic, a person’s religion can often easily satisfy the requirements of “belief” when it comes to the Equality Act 2010 as for many people it:

  • is genuinely held
  • is a belief not an opinion or viewpoint
  • is in relation to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attains a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • is worthy of respect in a democratic society but need not "allude to a fully-fledged system of thought"

So just how far does protection from religious discrimination go? Well, let us leave you with an interesting Employment Appeals Tribunal case from the earlier this year, Wasteney v East London NHS Foundation Trust. In this case the Christian claimant was suspended from her position of Senior Occupational Health Therapist, and subsequently given a written warning for inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, directed towards her junior Muslim colleague (who complained about the behaviour). The complaints related to various interactions with the Claimant which the complainant characterised as "grooming"; these included the Claimant's praying with the junior worker and the laying on of hands, giving a book to that worker, which concerned the conversion to Christianity of a Muslim woman, and inviting her to various services and events at the Claimant's Church.

Despite appealing the initial ruling that the employer’s actions were reasonable, the claimant was unsuccessful in arguing that her treatment was discriminatory. The EAT found that the action taken against the claimant was not due to her religious belief, but rather “because she subjected a subordinate to unwanted and unwelcome conduct, going substantially beyond "religious discussion", without regard to her own influential position”.

So, whilst it is important to be mindful of religious beliefs in the workplace, it is not a bulletproof shield that allows employees to act inappropriately. When presented with discrimination in the workplace it is always wise to seek expert advice and guidance on the best course of action to take as an employer. RBHR are on hand should you have any questions or queries, so if you think you could fall foul of employment legislation why not contact us on 01935 411191 or email admin@rebeccabevins.co.uk for professional advice and guidance.