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Is a Belief in The Efficient Use of Money in The Public Sector a Protected Philosophical Belief?

Workers enjoy protection against discrimination on a number of grounds, among them, philosophical belief.

Five criteria have been identified as being necessary for determining whether or not a philosophical belief can be protected under the Equality Act 2010 (the Grainger test). The belief must:

  • be genuine;
  • not simply be an opinion in relation to particular circumstances;
  • be held in relation to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  • not be contrary to the fundamental rights of others.

Case law has shown that the test as to what constitutes a ‘philosophical belief’ has a very wide scope, for example, a belief in the sanctity of life extending to anti-fox hunting; a belief that lying is always wrong.

In one recent case an employment tribunal had to decide whether a police worker's "profound belief in the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector" is a protected philosophical belief.

Mr Harron worked for Dorset Police and claimed he had faced discrimination on the ground of his belief in the importance of the public sector not wasting public money.

The tribunal accepted that Mr Harron is genuinely driven by an aspiration to save money in the public sector. In addition, the fact that his belief is worthy of respect in a democratic society had not been challenged by the employer.

However, his belief is not a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and its level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion or importance relates only to the workplace, and is not about human life and behaviour in general. In the tribunal’s judgment Mr Harron’s contended belief was not so much a belief, but a set of values that manifests itself as a goal or principle operating in the workplace.

In conclusion, Mr Harron’s philosophical belief, though genuinely held, did not meet the necessary criteria to merit protection under the Equality Act 2010.

On appeal the EAT was asked to determine whether or not the employment tribunal’s findings were correct. It held that the employment tribunal had found that the claimant’s belief met only the first and fifth criteria and therefore was not protected.

While the EAT was content to agree with the employment tribunal’s determination in respect of the first, second and fifth criteria, it felt that the tribunal’s reasoning was insufficient in respect of the third and fourth criteria.

The EAT emphasised that these criteria require careful application and the threshold should not be set too high.

The employment tribunal’s lack of indication as to how it had reached its decision was sufficient to persuade the EAT that an error of law could have been made.

The decision in Harron may well lower the threshold making it easier for employees to argue that their beliefs meet the Grainger criteria.

We deal with the good, the bad and the ugly of HR. If you need help resolving problems with philosophically inclined employees or any other HR issues, give us a call on 01908 262628.

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