Inappropiate Holding and Manifesting Beliefs Leads to Dismissal

While organisations must by law respect the right of the individual to hold religious beliefs, there are restrictions on how these beliefs can be put into practise at work, as evidenced in a recent case with the manager of a children’s nursery who was taken to a tribunal for inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour.

Grace was dismissed for gross misconduct, for holding an unauthorised training session, and interpreting a colleague’s dream in such a way that the colleague was left in fear.  Grace stated that her employer had dismissed her because they felt that some of the conversations she had with her colleagues were unsuitable and that she had been discriminated against, and tried to claim £500,000 in compensation.

The employment appeal tribunal (EAT) rejected Grace’s claim on the grounds that the employer had no duty to facilitate group prayer and that they had never opposed discussing the Bible, or specified that conversations about God were unsuitable in the workplace. Grace’s employers talked about the blurred lines between work and non-work related matters and said her dismissal was not because of her religion but due to the way in which she tried to share it. She was perfectly entitled to make her religious views known, but not to share them in a way which upset her colleagues - deemed to be inappropriate behaviour.

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights recognises the right to have religious freedom and the qualified right to manifest it. Another supporter of this right is the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) employment code of practice. It describes the inability to draw a clear line between holding and manifesting a belief. It argues that limiting a person’s right to manifest that belief can therefore be indirect discrimination.

However, while there is no clear line between holding and manifesting a belief, exceptions can be made when the manifestation of a belief disrupts or negatively impacts a place of work. In order to oppose a claim of direct discrimination, an employer must be able to show evidence of the inappropriate behaviour that has led to the disciplinary action


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