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Philosophical Belief Discrimination in the UK

Philosophical Belief Discrimination in the UK

It is well known that the UK’s discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on “religion or belief”. In this context, the Equality Act defines “belief” as being “any religious or philosophical belief”.

So far, so good.

But the legislation stops there, leaving the courts to work out what amounts to a protected “philosophical belief”.

Readers may remember the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s 2009 decision in the case of Grainger PLC v Nicholson, in which the judge set out the following principles for determining whether a viewpoint amounts to a philosophical belief (which is protected under the legislation) or not. The judge in that case said all five criteria must be satisfied before he thought a viewpoint should be protected:

  1. The belief must be genuinely held.
  2. It must be a belief and not … an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  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.

Whilst some commentators may take issue with these guidelines, for the time being it looks like they are here to stay.

And now, in an interesting development, another EAT in the recent case of in Harron v Dorset Police has decided that a belief that the civil service wastes money, may possibly constitute a philosophical belief. It is important to note that the EAT did not express a final view on the matter, but has simply sent the question back to the original Employment Tribunal to consider it in light of the guidance in Grainger PLC v Nicholson (the Tribunal had already done this, but the EAT said that it had made a mistake in its reasoning process).

Interestingly, the EAT judge also said that a belief that is only expressed in the workplace may be too narrowly focussed to amount to a philosophical belief. The judge said:

“Where a belief has too narrow a focus it may, depending upon the width of that focus, not meet the standards at the appropriate level … That might be thought to exclude beliefs that had so narrow a focus as to be parochial rather than fundamental.”

It will be interesting to see how the cases on philosophical belief develop over time. Our observation is that the EAT seems to be broadening out the potential range of topics that might count as a “philosophical belief” under the legislation, whilst at the same time giving a strong steer to Employment Tribunals that they have to be more than just views expressed in the context of someone’s job.