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Discrimination on grounds of religious (or philosophical) belief - Is there no limit?

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In an earlier article we reported on the case of Grainger v Nicholson in which the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed with the Leeds Employment Tribunal that a belief in climate change could amount to a philosophical belief under the legislation which deals with discrimination on grounds of religious belief. The EAT has now upheld a tribunal’s decision that a belief in spiritualism, life after death and the ability of mediums to contact the dead, was also capable of amounting to a religious or philosophical belief.

Woman with bibleIn Greater Manchester Police Authority v Power, Mr Power was employed as a trainer by the police and his employment was terminated after less than three weeks. He brought a claim alleging that he had been dismissed because of his particular beliefs in spiritualism and life after death.

The tribunal decided at a pre-hearing that his belief could amount to a religious belief which is protected by the legislation. Following the appeal by the Police, the EAT agreed with the tribunal and said that there was nothing perverse about the decision and that Mr Power’s belief satisfied the test.

Although the tribunal decided that Mr Power was not dismissed for his belief and therefore was not discriminated against, the matter is subject to an appeal to be heard later this month.

Both these cases suggest that the high watermark for what kind of belief may be caught by the law is very high indeed; what about vegetarianism or certain political theories. However, a belief (however strongly held )which offends the established rights of others cannot be protected so that , for example, an employee who is dismissed for criticising a colleague or expounding his belief that same sex couples should not be allowed to adopt could not bring a claim for discrimination . He might of course be able to claim unfair dismissal if he had been employed for more than one year.

For further information please contact Paul Grindley, a Partner in our Employment team.

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