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Employment Law Protects Extremists

The appearance of BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time last week has sparked a huge row about the judgment of the BBC in giving so much airtime to the leader of an extreme political party.

For many of us the views expressed by that particular group, however ‘cosied up’ they are to appear more palatable, are distasteful. What happens in politics today is creating a problem next week in the workplace.

Last year a shock ran through the nation as a list of BNP members appeared on the internet and employers asked what they should do if one of their employees is a member. It’s not an easy question to answer. Tempted though you may be to dismiss, you should remember that these employees are protected by employment law like any others. Apart from police officers, who are specifically banned from becoming BNP members, the dismissal of an employee simply on the basis of their membership of the BNP or any extremist political organisation will be found to be unfair by an employment tribunal.

The usual rules apply i.e. has the employer shown that one of the potentially fair grounds for dismissal applies, and that it had acted reasonably in dismissing the employee? Political membership can’t really be said to be a conduct, capability or a legality issue. If the post is not redundant, the only potentially fair ground for dismissal left is the catch-all 'some other substantial reason' for the dismissal.

Whether there is a substantial reason would depend on the individual facts. However, if the employee's membership did not have an impact on his ability to do the work it would appear unlikely. There is another issue with dismissing a member of staff because they’re part of the BNP is that person may be able to make a claim under the 2003 religious discrimination regulations. In April 2007, the definition of ‘religion’ or ‘belief’ changed.

The law previously said ‘any religious belief or similar philosophical belief’; ‘or similar’ has now been removed. At the time, there was no intention to widen the ambit of the regulation.

Far right groups like the BNP will test the law to see if the tribunal will have any sympathy to extend the definition. Employment law sometime places employers between a rock and a hard place.

Make sure you take advice if you have a situation like this.

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