This week will see employment law hit the headlines again as another case on religious discrimination is heard in the Court of Appeal. The case of Celestina Mba has already attracted considerable attention both at the Employment Tribunal, and then the Employment Appeal Tribunal. It has been billed by the press, particularly the Daily Telegraph, as being about the right of Christians to be forced to work on Sundays. However, it isn’t as simple as that and it should not be seen as a battle over whether Christians have the right to refuse to work on Sundays or not. It is not that straightforward and the Mr Justice Langstaff sitting in the EAT said of the case;
Religion and Belief Discrimination
Striking a balance between religious human rights and corporate image can be tough. Even schools are squabbling over whether pupils should be allowed to wear hijabs and turbans in class, as it’s against the school uniform policy.
When British Airways check-in employee, Nadia Eweida, was asked to remove her cross at work, this orthodox Coptic Christian decided to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Strasbourg. As a result, she was awarded £1,600 in compensation and granted the right to wear her symbol of faith in the workplace.
Last week it was reported that BA Air Steward Rothstein Williams, a Seventh Day Adventist, was not permitted to pursue his case for religious discrimination beyond a pre-hearing review at Reading Employment Tribunal. He complained that a female colleague had called him “darling” after asking him to collect some glasses during a flight. He took offence and sued.
Mr Williams was also upset because he thought he was harassed for studying the Bible at work.
The Tribunal dismissed his claims, accepting BA’s explanation that “darling” was a convenient epithet to use because there were so many flight crew that they couldn’t be expected to remember everyone’s names. How about name badges then?
You’ve probably heard some barrack room lawyer saying “they can’t touch me, I’ve put all the assets in my wife’s name” or “they can do what they want, I’m a limited company.” In this case “they” is usually a spouse or a creditor. In the case of Bungay and Paul v Chandel & Ors (UKEAT/0331/10) “they” was actually a Claimant in proceedings before an ET.
Bungay and Paul were directors in the company. They were found by the ET to have conducted a campaign of discriminatory action against Mr Chandel which were intended to get him removed from his post. Even after Mr Chandel’s dismissal, the two directors continued to make unfounded and malicious complaints to the police.
There was a lot of coverage last week in the media on the outcome of the case of Hall & Preddy v Bull & Bull involving the clash of religious beliefs and gay rights. It wasn’t an employment case but a dispute over discrimination (against a homosexual couple) in service provision, in this case Mr & Mrs Bull, a devout Christian couple who ran a B&B and refused to allow Mr Hall and Mr Preddy to stay in their B&B because it offended their religious beliefs.
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.
As promised last Monday, I am delighted today to welcome my first guest blogger, Ian Barratt (pictured, right) of Mind Strengths Ltd, to present his Seven Top Stress Management Tips on this third Monday of January, the allegedly most miserable day of the year. Ian is a qualified stress management consultant speaker and author. His book “The Phoenix Strategy”, co-authored with Amanda Robinson was published last October. Mind Strengths Ltd is a consultancy company offering workplace strress management , wellbeing and support services. Tomorrow I will look at how employers can minimise the risk of being sued for stress at work by employees.
The case of Grainger PLC v Nicholson UKEAT/0219/09/ZT gained lots of media coverage, including the front page of today’s The Independent (“Green beliefs win legal protection”). I covered the case when it was before the Employment Tribunal and Mr Nicholson initially won. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has rejected the company’s appeal and held that Mr Nicholson’s belief in climate change is capable of qualifying as a philosophical belief within the meaning of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. These regulations protect workers with religious or philosophical beliefs from being discriminated against because of their religion or belief. This was a preliminary hearing on whether belief in climate change could qualify within the meaning of those Regulations. Mr Nicholson still needs to return to the ET for the case on its facts to be decided. That will include cross-examination of his beliefs to establish to what extent they govern his life.
If there was any doubt that it was then it has been dispelled by a London Employment Tribunal recently. The facts are interesting enough, but the point of law raised is potentially massive and may cause to happen what Judges fear more than anything else: the floodgates opening! Cue Biblical style disaster, get building the ark now! (Judges and lawyers always worry about “the floodgates” opening when there is a new development in law – it might mean a deluge of cases swamping the courts).