Believe, in the law…

©Jerry Kiesewetter©Jerry Kiesewetter

Pranav Bhanot – a solicitor in the civil litigation department of local solicitors Wiseman Lee – explores how the law interprets and acts upon religious, political and philosophical beliefs.

Whatever your political views, a general election tends to highlight the divisions in society. When a national newspaper devotes no fewer than 13 pages of its pre-election edition to attacking a party they don't support, it begs the question of whether an employer could sack an employee because of their political beliefs.

The Equalities Act of 2010 enshrined the principle that discrimination against or harassment of an employee because of certain protected characteristics is unlawful. The protected characteristics are generally well known and include discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age and disability for example, and though political affiliations are not specifically referred to, the Act does deal with the question of "beliefs", which are held to include any religious or philosophical belief. In the case of Grainger Plc & Ors vs Nicholson (2009), a judge in the Employment Appeal Tribunal concluded that there must be some limit placed upon the definition of "philosophical belief" for the purpose of employment law, and ruled as follows:

The belief must be genuinely held.

  • It must be a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

In his summation, the judge held that while support of a political party does not of itself amount to a philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine, such as Socialism or free-market Capitalism might qualify. Referring back to an important human rights case from 1982, he also suggested that a political belief can be protected and classed as a philosophical belief, but only if it was "worthy of respect in a democratic society".

The significance of that phrase was that the courts, including the Employment Tribunal, have been required to rule on the respectability of the views held or expressed. So, a belief in climate change by an employee of the BBC was held to be a protected belief, whereas support for the British National Party, on the other hand, was not protected. While the more mainstream views of today's political parties may enjoy the protection of the Equalities Act, the law will not step in to protect employees who seek to spread discord and anarchy in the workplace.

This is an area of law that is constantly evolving as society's views on what is acceptable are adopted by the judiciary.

Wiseman Lee is located at 9–13 Cambridge Park, Wanstead – call 020 8215 1000


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