Unlike religious beliefs, which tend to be more easily recognised under the Equality Act 2010, a person’s philosophical beliefs can be something of a grey area This means that it can be very difficult for employers and service providers to identify when someone has a genuine belief which is protected by law.
Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010 recognises that a person can be subjectedto unlawful, less favourable treatment (discrimination) owing to certainbeliefs which they possess.
Section 10 of the Equality Act defines religion and beliefs:
(1) Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes areference to a lack of religion.
(2) Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a referenceto belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.
(3) In relation to the protected characteristic of religion or belief—
(a) a reference to a person who has a particular protectedcharacteristic is a reference to a person of a particular religion or belief;
(b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who are of the same religion or belief.
In Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd and others ET/3300873/11, anemployee was told that he was not permitted to wear a poppy while at work. Theemployee, an ex-serviceman, argued that by wearing the poppy he wascommemorating the sacrifices of those killed in armed conflicts. The EmploymentTribunal disagreed with the employee’s argument that his decision to wear apoppy while at work was a legitimate philosophical belief.
Yet, in earlier decision: Grainger plc v Nicholson (2010) IRLR 4the Employment Appeal Tribunal established that Nicholson’s belief in climate changecould constitute discrimination on the grounds of a philosophical belief.
Similarly, in Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd (t/a Orchard Park) ET/3105555/2009 a prominent animal rights activist (Joe Hashman) was deemed to have been dismissed unfairly by his employer by reason of his philosophical beliefs i.e. his belief in the sanctity of all life, both human and animal.
Recently, some interesting cases have come before Employment Tribunalsdealing with the issue of philosophical beliefs.
In one case, Christopher McEleny an SNP Councillor won a pre-Hearing Review which established that a belief in Scottish independence could constitute a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act 2010.
In the second case, Jordi Casamitjana, has taken his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports to an Employment Tribunal alleging that he had been subjected to discrimination on the grounds that he is a vegan. He alleged that he had been dismissed from his job because he had revealed that his employer had allegedly invested pension funds in organisations which carried out animal testing. At the time of writing (January 22, 2019), it remains to be seen whether Mr Casamitjana will be successful in his legal action.
Veganism, as a belief system which should be recognised and protected by law has divided opinion as the final BBC report demonstrates.
Independence views ‘protected by law’
Support for Scottish nationalism should be protected by law, a tribunal judge rules against the Ministry of Defence.
Sacked vegan claims discrimination in landmark case:
Finally, the controversy over veganism as a belief system continues to attract headlines in the media as the BBC article (below) demonstrates:
Waitrose Food: Editor William Sitwell resigns over ‘killing vegans’ row
The company said his suggested series on “killing vegans one by one” had “gone too far”.
Mr McEleny’s case and Mr Casamitjana’s case clearly demonstrate the difficulties that employers will have when it comes to a person’s philosophical beliefs.
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 January 2019