Expression of Religion in the workplace – How far is too far?

In a recent Tribunal decision, a discussion was had in relation to religious expression. A case had been brought by an employee of religious discrimination. The core issue in the case was whether the Employees conduct constituted innocent expression of religion, or whether their actions were an inappropriate manifestation of religious beliefs in the workplace.

If an individual is treated less favourably due to their religious beliefs then this would be considered to be Direct Discrimination. The Employee was accused of harassing other members of staff during training sessions with her devotedly Christian views. As a result the Employee was dismissed.

The Employee made a claim to the value of £500,000 as she claimed to have been discriminated against for the following reasons;

•    Her dismissal was purely based on the fact she was a Christian
•    The fact that she was actively told that it was not company policy to hold Bible sessions in the workplace
•    The fact that she was actively told that it was unsuitable to have discussions about God in the workplace; and allegations that she was informed that her conversations about God to other members of staff were unsuitable

The Tribunal found against the Employee and felt that she had not been discriminated against, and that the reason for her dismissal was not based on religion but on the basis of her behaviour and the way in which she acted and manifested her belief within the workplace. The Tribunal was also careful to distinguish between holding a religious belief, and manifesting a religious belief. Holding is to just have that belief, and Manifesting is to act in a way in line with the practice of that region, i.e. by a manner of dress or diet

The Employee appealed the case, which was not successful. The EAT held the same opinion as the Tribunal that there was a clear distinction between manifesting and holding and as such the actions undertaken by the Employee were manifesting a religious belief and therefore could not be discriminated against. It was the way in which she manifested her beliefs which lead to this conclusion being drawn, which the EAT where clear to point out.

Published: 12 May 2014

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