I admit I had to laugh and wondered whether it was an April Fool’s joke come early. I’m referring to the story in The Sun a few days ago about Chris Jarvis, the hoodie, who was refused entry to Southend Job Centre for refusing to take his hood down. He complained. Why? Because he claimed that his religious beliefs had been infringed, on account of him being a member of the International Church of Jediism – i.e he believed he was a Jedi Knight. The job centre subsequently apologised for offending him. He is quoted as saying “Muslims can walk around in whatever religious gear they like, so why can’t I?” ignoring the obvious fact that Islam is one of the world’s great religions dating back to the 600s, as opposed to a science fiction film by George Lucas in 1977. The clue, Chris, might be in the word “fiction”. I would have had more sympathy with him had he argued about the increasing tendency of organisations to cite “security” with glib abandon where there is little risk posed.
Anyway, I digress. What has this to do with employment law? The answer lies in the Employment Equality (Religion and Philosophical Belief) Regulations 2006, which don’t apply to service provision of this sort, but do in the workplace. Should employers be getting nervous about these type of cases? Those regulations prohibit less favourable treatment or harassment to an employee or worker on the basis of their religion or belief. The case of Grainger v Nicholson, decided last year that a belief in global warming could amount to a philosophical belief for the purpose of those regulations, meaning that (in that case) Mr Nicholson was able to claim that his selection for redundancy was a manifestation of discrimination. The court in Grainger set out a five part test for deciding what should constitute a “philosophical belief”;
1. The belief must be genuinely held
2. It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint
3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
4. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
Could an employee claim that he had been discriminated against on the basis that his rights as a Jedi had been infringed? Yes, but the better question is would the claim be successful? Would an Employment Tribunal hold that Jediism was a religion deserving of protection under the Regs? I doubt it: the bar for what qualifies is set high, as can be seen from the above five points. The third and fourth criteria probably end Jediism’s pretensions to recognition. Even in the unlikely event that a Tribunal did decide that Jediism did qualify, the employee still has to show that the reason for their treatment was because of their adherence to that religion and not for some unconnected reason. But, if the religion or belief claimed was more orthodox – say a refusal to undergo conventional medical treatment because of a belief in holistic therapies – that could be a very interesting situation and one quite likely to attratc protection under the Regs, in my view.
One story which was an April Fool’s was posted by Personnel Today last week. Apparently a last minute amendment to the Equality Bill bans wedding rings from the workplace to avoid offending divorcees. Good story. Has anyone else seen any good employment law April Fool jokes?