The Employment Appeal Tribunal has again heard a case which deals with the fine line between religious belief and the way those beliefs are expressed through extremist views.
In this case, an employee had been given a final written warning for comments made about homosexuality which he claimed was a mere manifestation of his religious belief.
Prison Employee Helped Out At Chapel
In Trayhorn v The Secretary of State for Justice, the claimant (who was ordained as a Pentacostal Minister in 2009) began employment at HM Prison Littlehey as a gardener in 2011.
He volunteered to help out at the Prison chapel. Attendees included inmates of all faiths as well as lesbian and gay inmates, and others from the LGBT community.
Although not part of his volunteering activities, the claimant would speak out during services when he felt moved to do so. A complaint was received from an inmate attendee after the claimant commented during a service that homosexual marriage should be stopped. The Managing Chaplain told the claimant not to behave in this way.
Employee Made Further Comments suggesting Extremist Views
Three months later, however, the claimant made further comments that were consider extremist views during a service about homosexuality, drunkenness, sex outside marriage and theft. He then told inmates that they could complain if they wanted to but God would forgive them. Following further complaints, the claimant was invited to a disciplinary hearing for unprofessional conduct. He was told that the highest sanction that could result from the proceedings was a final written warning.
He then went on sick leave before submitting his resignation. The disciplinary proceedings were held during the claimant’s notice period and he was issued with a final written warning.
The claimant claimed constructive dismissal and religious discrimination on the basis that he had been subjected to disciplinary proceedings and given a warning for the manifestation of his religious beliefs. The Employment Tribunal dismissed all claims.
Employment Appeal Tribunal Agreed
The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed that the claims should be dismissed.
It was not the manifestation of the claimant’s religious belief that led to disciplinary action but the way in which that manifestation occurred, the EAT said. It is the “context and the manner” of the religious expression that was a breach of the Prison’s rules on conduct. Prison rules did not prohibit manifestation of religious belief but did not accept it being done in a way that causes offence to others. The claimant had not been discriminated against.
What Can Employers Take From This?
- The EAT’s finding is consistent with a previous decision on similar facts (Wasteney v East London NHS Foundation Trust) meaning that employers can start to navigate this area of discrimination with more surety;
- Whilst individuals are protected by the Equality Act 2010 against detriment because of their religion, employers can take action when the expression of that religion is done in an unacceptable manner;
- Individuals cannot use their religion as a reason for imposing their potential extremist views in the workplace to an unlimited extent;
Careful investigation of complaints must be carried out. In these types of cases, witness statements from those who considered the comments to be offensive will be key.