Wasting state money comes up for assessment in discrimination tribunal

Is a belief in the proper use of public sector funding protected in law?

In Harron v Chief Constable of Dorset Police, the Employment Appeal Tribunal had to decide whether a belief about the ‘efficient use of public money’ was protected under Section 10 the Equality Act 2010.

The Act prohibits discrimination because of religion or belief: ‘religion’ means any religion or no religion, and ‘belief’ means any religious or philosophical belief or lack of one. Case law has established five criteria for assessing whether a philosophical belief is covered by the Act (seeGrainger v Nicholson). The belief must be:

  • genuinely held
  • not just any opinion or viewpoint
  • based on a substantial aspect of human life
  • cogent, serious, cohesive and important
  • worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others
Tribunal

Harron claimed he had been discriminated against because of his profound belief in ‘the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector’. An employment tribunal decided his belief met the first criterion, because it was genuinely held, and the fifth criterion but not the second, third and fourth and so did not to amount to a philosophical belief. The employment judge thought this was not so much a belief, but a set of values operating as a goal in the workplace.

Harron appealed on the grounds that the judge had adopted too high a threshold when applying theGrainger criteria and had not explained sufficiently why the criteria had not been met.

EAT

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the appeal. The proper approach to determining whether or not a belief qualified for protection under the Act was not simply to set out the wording of theGrainger criteria. Each criterion had to be examined against the individual’s basis for holding that belief and while a belief must relate to matters that are more than merely trivial, tribunals should not be demanding too much in this regard and should not set the threshold requirements at too high a level.

The tribunal had not adopted the right approach, as shown by the lack of a full explanation as to why certain criteria had not been met. The EAT sent the case back to the tribunal to reconsider the issue, this time adopting the right approach.

Comment

People’s beliefs are not static but are prone to change over a lifetime and in today’s world it is likely that more and more deeply held beliefs in fundamental issues will arise. In the Grainger case, the EAT decided that the need to cut carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change was a protected philosophical belief.

Since then, tribunals applying the five criteria have added to the list of protected beliefs, which now includes:

  • a belief in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting
  • a belief that lying is wrong under any circumstances
  • a commitment to public service for the common good
  • a belief in the sanctity of life (and, therefore, that fox hunting and hare coursing are wrong).

When tribunals or employers are confronted with a claim that discrimination has occurred because of a philosophical belief, establishing whether that belief is protected is not a tick box ‘yes’ or ‘no’ exercise against the Grainger criteria. The fact that individuals cannot always be expected to express themselves with simplicity or precision also has to be taken into account. A decision has to set out why each criterion has, or has not, been met, which is exactly what the tribunal will now need to do in this case.

 

Story via – http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2016/05/20/wasting-state-money-comes-up-for-assessment-in-discrimination-tribunal.aspx

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