Managing conflicting beliefs in the workplace
All employees have protection from discrimination because of their religious or philosophical beliefs as this is one of the nine “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act 2010.
Employers may find that they are faced with employees who hold conflicting and protected beliefs. This clash of rights is not a new problem and employers have always been required to ensure that the principles of respect and dignity at work are applied to all individuals, regardless of their religious or philosophical beliefs.
However, with huge developments in communication technology allowing employees to be increasingly vocal about their beliefs at work there is a heightened risk of conflicts arising between employees with different beliefs. Employers need to ensure that they are handling the issues proportionately and in an even-handed way by making it clear that the workplace encompasses a range of beliefs and experiences, and everybody needs to be sensitive to this fact. Employers should certainly review the extent to which they permit employees to discuss their beliefs at work via internal messaging forums such as Slack and any IT & communication systems policy should be updated to reflect the employer’s current rules.
Case law developments
The need to be thoughtful about handling a clash of rights is perfectly illustrated by the gender-critical belief cases including the recent case of Forstater v CGD Europe. In this case the EAT held that Ms Forstater’s gender-critical beliefs were protected under the Equality Act as they satisfied the legal test for a protected belief. A fresh tribunal was then asked to decide the issues of liability and held that her employer, CGD Europe had directly discriminated against her by deciding not to offer her an employment contract and to not renew her visiting fellowship and had victimized her by removing her profile from its website because she had expressed gender-critical beliefs.
The Forstater case also raised the issue of employees using social media to discuss beliefs and the degree to which employers can take disciplinary action against employees for their beliefs. This is of course a fact-sensitive question but will also depend on the clarity of the employer’s policies, the nature of the posting and whether there is any connection with the workplace. The tribunal in Forstater noted that Ms Forstater had agreed to add a disclaimer to her tweets to avoid any suggestion that CGD was directly or indirectly associated with her beliefs and so there was no suggestion that she had breached her employer’s policies on bullying and harassment or social media.
In conclusion, the workplace has certainly become a trickier place for employers to navigate safely when there is an ever-increasing level of employee activism amongst a diverse workforce who may often have conflicting beliefs.
For advice or further information on how to protect your business and avoid employment tribunal claims including discrimination claims based on religious or philosophical beliefs, call Henry Doswell of Doswell Law Solicitors on 01233 722942. Alternatively, email Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Whilst every reasonable effort is made to make the information and commentary contained in this blog accurate and up to date, Henry Doswell takes no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it. The information and commentary in this blog does not constitute legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. You are strongly advised to obtain specific, personal advice from a lawyer about your case or matter.