Belief in public service is a protected belief in accordance with Equality Act 2010
The Employment Tribunal recently heard the claim of Anderson v Chesterfield High School and was asked to decide whether a belief in public service constituted a protected belief and whether it played a part of the Claimant’s dismissal.
The Claimant was a Social Inclusion Officer at the Respondent. He had been active in local politics for a number of years and eventually became the leader of Liverpool City Council. At this point he entered into an extended leave arrangement with the Respondent in order to fulfill his public duties.
When the Claimant was elected as Mayor of Liverpool for a four-year term his employer ended the leave arrangement and terminated his employment. The Claimant brought a claim for unfair dismissal and direct discrimination and claimed that his dismissal constituted direct discrimination because of his belief. The belief in question was the Claimant’s “philosophical commitment to public service for the common good."
In accordance with s.10 of the Equality Act 2010 an employee is protected from being subjected to unlawful acts on the grounds of their religion or belief. In this context a “belief” is defined as any religious or philosophical belief or lack of a belief.
Employment Tribunals are required to decide whether a particular belief comes within the statutory definition. In order to determine this the Employment Appeals Tribunal developed a five-point test in the case of Grainger v Nicholson which can be applied to when considering if a belief is protected.
The first issue for the Tribunal to decide was whether the Claimant’s belief was protected by the Act. It applied the test in Grainger v Nicholson which involved answering the following questions:
- Did the employee genuinely hold the belief?
The Claimant’s passion for public service was evident to the Tribunal and was not disputed by the Respondent.
- Was it a belief and not simply an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available?
The Claimant had held the belief for as long as he had been an adult and it was not an opinion or viewpoint liable to change if the available information changed.
- Was it a belief about a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour?
The concept of “public service for the common good” went to the heart of the debate as to what sort of society we should have.
- Does the belief have a certain level of cogency seriousness cohesion and importance?
The Claimant’s belief was not trivial or lacking persuasiveness: it was logical convincing and cohesive.
- Is the belief worthy of respect in a democratic society not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others?
His belief satisfied all of these aspects.
The Tribunal held that the Claimant’s belief was protected by the Equality Act 2010. However despite this his discrimination claim was rejected. This is because a hypothetical comparator on leave from the school for the same period who took up an external role (which in principle was a four-year commitment remunerated at the same level but with no element of public service) would have been treated in the same way as the Claimant.
While the Tribunal found the leave arrangement was a fair reason for the Claimant’s dismissal it found that the dismissal was unfair because of the procedure adopted by the Respondent. The Claimant had not been consulted before his employment was terminated and was not offered a right to appeal.
In recent times the EAT and Employment Tribunals have been prepared to widen the scope of the definition of “belief” on application of the test in Grainger v Nicholson. This case is a prime example of this principle.
Other beliefs that have been found to be protected by the Act include:
Spiritualism – life after death and the ability of mediums to contact the dead;
Environmentalism and belief in climate change;
Democratic socialism; and
A belief in it being wrong to lie under any circumstances.
If you have been dismissed by your employer or treated less favourably on the grounds of a belief that you hold or for any other reason including your race or religion sex or sexual orientation or disability please contact the dedicated employment team at Michael Lewin Solicitors to discuss whether we could assist you with a claim for unfair dismissal or discrimination.