discrimination issuesemployment lawreligion or belief

Hello and welcome to our second Employment Law Snippet article. As usual, this article aims to focus on one general topic and engage in an interesting, non-jargon filled discussion on how that subject matter may affect employees and employers alike. Naturally, the below involves (quite a bit of) simplification of the law and isn’t set out out as any form of actual legal advice!

This week’s topic is a quirky one: Jedi! Yes, this is inspired by 0.8% of the 2001 UK census forms having ‘Jedi’ entered under ‘religion’. You may well be thinking ‘what on earth does the Jedi faith from Star Wars have to do with employment law?’ Well, as usual, an interesting question usually leads to an interesting answer…

Firstly, before tackling the big question, why is the definition of a “religion or belief” within the Equality Act 2010 important for employers? Simply put, it is important because it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of their ‘religion and/or beliefs or lack of religion or beliefs’.

So, let’s ask the key question from an employment law viewpoint: ‘What is a religion or belief under the Equality Act 2010?’ Some people may say ‘oh, well, that’s obvious, it is a religious belief in God, numerous gods, a non-human entity or a prophet’. However, Anglo-Welsh courts have held the definition to go further than that and, noticeably, have allowed numerous ‘beliefs’ to enter into what used to be referred to (inaccurately) as ‘religious discrimination’. As you’ll see from the below, it is now very much a ground of ‘religion or belief discrimination’.

How can ‘religion or belief’ go further than belief in a God or divine being? Well, most tellingly, atheism constitutes a ‘religion or belief’ under the Equality Act 2010.  Yes, that’s right, the belief in not believing in a God is classified as a religion or belief which, astoundingly to some perhaps, means that an atheist could have a discrimination claim against their employer on the basis of ‘religion or belief’ despite their belief, to most people’s eyes, being against having a religion.

In recent years, climate change has been held by the Employment Tribunal Appeal to constitute a relevant ‘religion or belief’ against which an employee can be discriminated on. In fact, within a 2010 case, the EAT set out a series of five conditions for a belief to be protected.  Let’s have a look at the test and apply the Jedi belief to it at the same time…

(1) The belief must be genuinely held

This may be a difficulty for the ‘Jedi faith’ because very few of the individuals who stated ‘Jedi’ as their religion within the 2001 UK census would be likely to persuade a court that they truly believed in ‘the force’ and Jedi mantra.

(1) It must be a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint

Given that climate change was accepted, who is to say that Jedi values aren’t a belief also?

(3) It must relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour

On the one hand, every religion does this by providing life mantras and comfort to those who have that belief and, in that way, is there a way of stating that true belief in Jedi mantra doesn’t do this for true believers?

(4) It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance

Not too sure Jedi would pass the ‘seriousness’ aspect of this test…

(5) Must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, must not be incompatible with human dignity and must not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

It is the ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society’ part that most likely sinks the Jedi ship here. Few judges would believe that anti-Jedi comments in the workplace should constitute discrimination against the employee if, say, a colleague stated that they ‘hated Star Wars because it was stupid’ (which, in essence, would be the effectively holy text of the Jedi belief).

So, overall, Jedi is probably not a religion or protected belief but only because a Judge is unlikely to believe that the belief is genuinely held (given that it comes from a fictional film universe) and, therefore, not serious enough to gain that protection within a democratic society. Unfortunately, therefore, it seems there will be no likely Employment Tribunal duels in the future between individuals with ‘Skywalker’ as a middle name and employers embodying the dark side of the force! But then, as per Yoda, “a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defence, never for attack”…

My thanks for reading our second Employment Law Snippet article.  Our intention is to publish these weekly and, at present, we have some entertaining topics lined up for the next few weeks!  In the meantime, we hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s topic.