Employees who hold religious and philosophical beliefs can now be protected by law.
At the height of the Christmas shopping frenzy, Marks and Spencer had to grapple with this new situation when staff were allowed to refuse to sell alcohol and pork on religious grounds. They had to reverse their decision after trade was lost due to a massive customer backlash. But a marker was set down.
The law did not compel Marks and Sparks to enforce this religious practice. Nonetheless, they could have risked a claim by some staff of discrimination on the grounds of religion if staff were forced to compromise their religious beliefs.
The guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission is that employers should take requests from employees to be excused some duties on religious grounds and take steps to accommodate them. However, employers are entitled to consider the disruption to the business and to other staff that may be caused.
An employment tribunal actually ruled on a case of political discrimination where an employee had been sacked. In the case of Olivier –V- Department of Work and Pensions, Mr Olivier, a Labour Party councillor, argued that his employer discriminated against him on the grounds of his philosophical belief in democratic socialism.
The Employment Tribunal found that Mr Oliver did more than just support socialism. The Tribunal was satisfied that he lived for the Labour Party and so accepted its values and aims that they affected the way he lived his life.
The Tribunal also had to determine whether his socialism got him sacked. Members of the tribunal were not persuaded that the issue was his socialism but rather his failure to comply with the government department’s Standards of Behaviour Procedures.
The Tribunal rules that his claims had little prospect of success and made a disposal order. Nonetheless Mr Oliver’s philosophical beliefs were protected under S10 of the Equality Act 2010.
The Employment Tribunal set conditions for a belief to qualify for protection, It must:
- – be genuinely held
- – be a belief and not an opinion
- – be weighty and on a substantial aspect of human life
- – have cogency, seriousness, and importance
- – be worthy of respect and not conflict with the rights of others
No doubt a volume of cases will eventually interpret what these conditions really mean.