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Believe it or not...

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Employers will perhaps be startled to discover that in the wake of last year’s decision in Grainger v Nicholson - the case in which a Claimant’s belief in climate change was held to fall within the definition of a religious of philosophical belief and therefore capable of protection from discrimination - the Southampton employment Tribunal has recently ruled that an employee’s fervent opposition to foxhunting also amounts to a protected belief within the meaning of the law.

FoxThe legislation is in the form of Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 which affords protection from discrimination at work on grounds of religious or “philosophical belief”. In the Nicholson case last year, the Employment Appeal Tribunal gave guidance as to what may fall within the definition of philosophical belief. In essence, the belief in question must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Genuinely held.
  • Not simply an opinion or viewpoint based on information currently available.
  • A belief as to a “weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”.
  • A belief which is able to “attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.
  • Worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

In the latest case, Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd, Mr Hashman worked as a gardener and had dedicated much of his life towards protecting the lives and rights of animals. He was an anti-hunting activist and an active member of the Hunt Saboteurs Association.

As Paul Grindley, Head of the Employment team at Yorkshire Law firm Keeble Hawson LLP explains:

“He started work for Milton Park as a sub-contract gardener (significantly, not an employee) and claimed that he did not realise that the majority shareholders of his employer were “hunts people”. When his employer decided that it no longer needed his services and terminated the engagement, Mr Hashman brought proceedings and claimed that his dismissal amounted to direct discrimination on the ground of his philosophical belief in the sanctity of life. The employer argued that he was not dismissed for this reason but because the vegetable garden in which he worked was simply no longer profitable.”

At a preliminary Hearing in the Tribunal, the Judge ruled that Mr Hashman’s beliefs concerning the welfare of animals satisfied the above criteria in the Nicholson case.

Paul continues:

“Thus, Mr Hashman has overcome the initial hurdle - although the case will go back to the Tribunal to be heard on its merits; namely whether in fact he was actually dismissed for his beliefs or, whether, as the employer claims, it was a business decision relating to the profitability of the gardening venture."

“This decision is further evidence of an apparent willingness by Tribunals to broaden the definition of religious/philosophical belief and it is therefore perfectly conceivable to conclude that other employees would be given similar protection. An obvious group of people which would be included is vegetarians and vegans. Bearing in mind that the legislation also protects against harassment in the workplace, colleagues who may be inclined to mock these groups could land their employer in the Tribunal over any comments or remarks made.”

For firther information please contact a member of our Employment team.

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