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What is beyond the bounds of belief?

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UK discrimination law prohibits discrimination in the workplace on grounds of religion or belief and the term “belief” means any religious or philosophical belief.

Keeble HawsonFollowing a landmark case last year (Grainger Plc v Nicholson) the Employment Appeal Tribunal gave guidance on what amounts to a “philosophical belief”. This must be:

  1. Genuinely held
  2. A belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  3. One which has attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  4. Worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

In the Grainger case, the Claimant had alleged that he had been selected for redundancy because of his beliefs about the environment and climate change.

There have been a number of cases since then by employees arguing that as a result of their particular beliefs, they have been subjected to unlawful discrimination.

In the latest of these (Farrell v South Yorkshire Police Authority ) Mr Farrell was employed by the Police as a principal intelligent analyst and one of his tasks was to produce a strategic threat assessment covering various matters including terrorism.

When he submitted this, he also attached a document explaining that in his view, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 were authorised by the US and UK governments and that the UK government’s and the police’s approaches to counter-terrorism were “utter shams”.

Mr Farrell was ultimately dismissed following disciplinary proceedings, the Police adopting the stance that his views were incompatible with his contract and prevented him from performing his role effectively. Mr Farrell then brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for discrimination.

Following a preliminary hearing at Sheffield Employment Tribunal, the Judge ruled that Mr Farrell’s beliefs did not satisfy the tests laid down in Grainger and his discrimination claim was rejected. Indeed, the Judge went as far as to say that Mr Farrell’s beliefs were “absurd”.

Paul Grindley, Head of the Employment team at Keeble Hawson LLP commented:

“Employers will no doubt breathe a huge sigh of relief at the outcome in this case because had Mr Farrell succeeded, this would suggest that there is simply no limit to the range of topics which may form the subject of a philosophical belief.”

“It is expected that more cases will be brought which will test the boundaries of what may amount to a philosophical belief and examples of such cases which have already been heard in the tribunals include beliefs about Marxism and Trotskyism and whether fox hunting is morally acceptable.”

“Employers should also be aware that discrimination claims can be brought not only in respect of dismissals but any alleged detrimental treatment or victimisation of employees who may express their views amongst colleagues in the workplace.”

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