The most commonly encountered discrimination claims are usually on the grounds of disability, race, gender and age. However, there is another area to be alert to – discrimination on the grounds of philosophical or religious belief. This is contained in the Equality Act 2010.
The religious belief element is perhaps easier to digest – dismissing an employee for being part of a certain religion would clearly amount to an act of discrimination. Whether or not Jedi would be considered a religion is yet to be tested!
However, the boundaries of what would constitute a philosophical belief are less certain and this is allowing individuals to bring forward discrimination claims based on vague and sometimes seemingly absurd beliefs.
In the now famous (or infamous!) case of Grainger v Nicholson (about a belief in manmade climate change) a series of rules were set down to help establish what qualifies as a philosophical belief capable of protection:
- The views must be genuinely held by the individual
- These must be settled beliefs rather than opinion
- The beliefs must relate to substantial and weighty aspects of human life
- The beliefs must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
- The beliefs must not be incompatible with human dignity and are deserving of respect in a democratic society
In the case of Farrell v South Yorkshire Police Authority (August 2011) the employee in question, a principal intelligence analyst for the police, held a belief that recent terrorist attacks were part of a ‘New World Order’ or global conspiracy. He believed in particular that the UK and US Governments perpetrated the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and July 2005. These views came across in a report prepared for his employers.
As a consequence the employee was dismissed on the grounds that his views were incompatible with the requirements of his job.
When examining whether the employee’s belief was capable of protection, the Employment Tribunal Judge determined that his beliefs did indeed fulfil most of the rules set down in Grainger but fell down on one aspect – they were “absurd” and lacked any cogency or cohesion.
The claim failed.
The Judge added that a Tribunal must consider whether a belief is feasible in light of the evidence around it. Therefore it is possible that a coherent conspiracy theory, with some evidence, may well qualify as a philosophical belief. Given the wealth of accessible conspiracy and other unusual theories on the internet, these additional comments from the Tribunal are perhaps a little concerning, but we are reasonably certain that theories along the lines of “aliens walk among us” may not be entertained by any Tribunal, unless of course any AZ readers can produce some evidence…