Along with the rest of British anti-discrimination law the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 were replaced by the Equality Act 2010 with effect from 1 October 2010. Reflecting changes originally made in 2007, the new wording ensures that any philosophical belief is covered whether or not it is “similar” to a religious belief.
This has recently produced some interesting discussion (and litigation).
The Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed in October that there is an important distinction between “a person’s beliefs” and “manifestation of those beliefs”. In the case in question a spiritualist policeman employed as a Special Constabulary Trainer had a genuine belief that psychics could help solve criminal investigations. He distributed CDs and posters relating to spiritualism. Greater Manchester Police, for whom he worked, dismissed him, saying that his “work in the psychic field” was incompatible with his employment by them. He brought a discrimination claim against the Police but lost before an employment tribunal and again on appeal to the EAT on the basis that the protection provided by the law is simply against detrimental treatment because of “belief”. The EAT held that in this case the detrimental treatment (dismissal) was not because of the belief but was because of the way that belief was manifested, which is not protected (Power v Greater Manchester Police Authority, EAT on 8th October 2010).
The distinction between “belief” and “manifestation of belief” is a fine one. In other circumstances it would be interesting to consider whether the wearing of a Burka by a Muslim woman at work would count as an integral part of her “belief” (protected by the law) or as a “manifestation of her belief” (unprotected).
Other cases have concentrated on whether a particular belief amounted to a “philosophical” belief, testing the limits of relevant law. One such case, concerned with whether a belief that “mankind is headed towards catastrophic climate change” is protected, has been decided. The other, concerned with whether a belief in animal rights, in particular opposition to hunting, is protected is still ongoing.
In the first of these two cases, a person of strong green views, Tim Nicholson, was made redundant from his job as “head of sustainability” at Grainger plc. He claimed that he had been unable to work out the carbon footprint of his employers because staff had refused to give him the necessary data and that as a result he had been unable to set up a carbon management system for the company. He also claimed that the chief executive had once flown a member of staff to Ireland to deliver his Blackberry which he had left in London and had showed “contempt” for his concerns. The employer argued that “What Mr Nicholson asserts is a scientific claim that if we don’t urgently cut carbon emissions, we will not avoid catastrophic climate change. There is nothing philosophical about that“. The EAT dismissed this argument and accepted that Mr Nicholson’s beliefs were “capable” of amounting to a “philosophical belief”. The EAT remitted the case back to the original tribunal to decide on the evidence whether in Mr Nicholson’s particular case the belief attained “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” which is “worthy of respect in a democratic society, [would] be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others” (Grainger plc v Nicholson EAT on 3rd November 2009).
The Nicholson case was eventually settled out of court so the question posed by the EAT was never answered. However the principle was established and it is now clear that subjecting an employee to a detriment because of his or her strong green views can be unlawful discrimination.
In the second case an animal rights campaigner, Joe Hashman, claims he was dismissed from his job at the Orchard Park Garden Centre, Gillingham because of his beliefs. He has previously brought, and won, a case in the European Court of Human Rights concerning disruption of a fox hunt. In the present case Mr Hashman was dismissed from his job shortly after he had given evidence which helped convict Clarissa Dickson Wright of “Two Fat Ladies” fame of attending an illegal hare coursing event in Yorkshire in 2007. His employers are hunt supporters and he claims that their disapproval of his belief in animal rights was the main reason for his dismissal. The employers say his dismissal had nothing to do with his opposition to hunting and that anyway his beliefs could not amount to a “philosophical belief” for the purposes of the relevant anti-discrimination law. That case is still ongoing. A preliminary hearing has been fixed for January 2011 when no doubt the basic question noted above will be resolved by an employment tribunal. So watch this space!