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17-04-2014

There has been a lot of comment in the press in recent times regarding religious discrimination, including the belief that Christians are seemingly disadvantaged compared to followers of other religions. However, few employers appreciate just how far anti-discrimination legislation can potentially reach.

Under the Equality Act 2010 (EA), it is unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of religion and/or religious and/or philosophical belief.

When an employee was dismissed after he was elected as a Labour Councilor and had a letter published in the local newspaper which criticized the Government's policies, he brought claims for philosophical belief discrimination and unfair dismissal.

The Tribunal held that the belief in "democratic socialism" constituted a philosophical belief and that this was capable of protection (See Olivier v Department of Work and Pensions).

It is very difficult in such cases to determine what a tribunal might decide.

The case of Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd T/A Orchard Park Garden Centre said that a belief in the sanctity of life that hunting with hounds was wrong was also capable of amounting to a philosophical belief capable of protection.

Therefore the anti-discrimination legislation may be far more wide-reaching that might be appreciated.

One thing that employers can take heart from is that, in order to qualify for protection, a philosophical belief must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Therefore, extreme and offensive beliefs are unlikely to be protected.

Sarah Rushton (srushton@moonbeever.com)

This is intended for general information only and should not be considered as giving advice in relation to any individual case nor be taken as applying to any particular case. No liability is accepted for any such use of the information.

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