Religion or belief is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and understanding discrimination in this context is key to operating an equal, diverse and inclusive workplace. Two recent cases demonstrate the approach of employment tribunals and provide some helpful “take away tips” for employers.
Higgs v Farmor’s School
Ms Higgs was dismissed from her employment after she posted on social media criticising the teaching of “gender fluidity” in schools. Her lack of belief in gender fluidity was found to be a protected philosophical belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
The school argued that she was not dismissed because of her views but instead because of concerns as to the perceptions her social media posts created. The tribunal had to therefore look closely at the connection between Ms Higgs’ conduct and her beliefs and agreed with the school.
Ms Higgs appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and the case has now been remitted back to the ET on the basis that the ET had not considered a proportionality approach, in particular, whether the school’s objection to the way in which Ms Higgs had manifested her beliefs could be justified.
Owen v Willow Tower
Ms Owen was dismissed from her job in a care home after not complying with the legal requirement to have the Covid-19 vaccination, unless exempt. She followed a vegan diet and believed she was exempt (on the basis the vaccine may be tested on animals or contain animal products).
The tribunal had to consider whether Ms Owen’s belief in ethical veganism was genuinely held, and it concluded that notwithstanding her diet, her other practices and beliefs were not sufficient to satisfy the requirement that a belief must be genuinely held.
Employers should be mindful from these cases of the impact that a person’s religion or belief can have in the workplace and take reasonable steps to respect this to promote a diverse and inclusive environment. Now is also a good time to ensure that work policies are clear and up to date, such as policies on equal opportunities, anti-discrimination and social media.
Employers will no doubt want to promote a working environment where different religions and beliefs are accepted and valued so understanding the Equality Act 2010 and keeping abreast of legal developments is key.
If you require any assistance or would like to discuss any specific concerns regarding religion or belief in the workplace, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the employment team at email@example.com.
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