discrimination employment law employment tribunal decisions

“wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness”…

General Synod Meet to Discuss Church Of England Concerns

…is what the Archbishop of Canterbury called bans on the wearing of religious iconography in the workplace in his Easter sermon.

As has been widely reported today, nurse Shirley Chaplin has lost her discrimination claim against Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital after being required to remove her crucifix when on duty. She refused to do so and was moved from her regular duties to an office-based job. The Trust maintained that its decision was based on health and safety concerns about patients grabbing necklaces. In response to this, Mrs Chaplin offered to modify the crucifix so that it had a magnetic clasp and would come off the chain if grabbed. The Trust then changed its position and said that it might scratch someone. She maintained that demanding the removal of the crucifix would “violate her faith”.

However, an interesting aspect of the tribunal decision is that it was decided that a material factor was that the wearing of a crucifix is not a Christian requirement so that the damage caused to her by the ban was “slight”. Ms Chaplin has worn the crucifix since she was 16 years old and in the subsequent 38 years has only removed it for a few hours when she had an operation.

The crucifix is an inch long and according to a report in the Daily Mail Mrs Chaplin said:

“I have worn my cross for 38 years and it has never harmed anybody. If I am forced to hide it, I feel I am denying my Christian convictions. I feel torn between my two vocations – my faith and my job.

“I have respect for Islam as a faith and I admire Muslims for sticking to their views, but they do not seem to face the same rigorous application of NHS rules. Not only are they allowed to wear headscarves in the wards but other, non-religious staff wear jewellery and have not been challenged.”

The case has generated strong feelings as exemplified by the comments of Rector Peter Mullen, Chaplain to the Stock Exchange, in a feature in the Northern Echo:

“Whenever one of these loony hearings occurs, we are told that Christian imagery is officially disallowed in the workplace because it might prove “offensive to members of other faiths”. Well, I live and work in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities and I have never heard a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Zoroastrian take offence at the sight of a cross.

“Contrary to what you would believe if you set any store by these daft legal cases, there are oceans of religious tolerance in Britain today. Our difficulties are caused entirely by the increasing influence on public policy of aggressive secularists.

“There is a vicious secular establishment in Britain which aims to remove religion from the public sphere and to deny members of the various faiths any input into national life.

“This is an ignorant, aggressive and crude denial of our history.”

The article neatly demonstrates the dilemma. On the one hand, legislation exists to guard against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, while on the other hand employment tribunals are upholding decisions by employers which have the effect of denying the expression of religious affiliation.

Mrs Chaplin’s lawyers have already confirmed that the decision will be appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

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