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Case law: Employers beware of treating employees less favourably on grounds of belief in Scottish independence or Brexit

Employers whose workforce include individuals with strong beliefs about Scottish independence, Brexit or similar issues should beware treating them less favourably than other workers because of those beliefs, or risk a discrimination claim on grounds of philosophical belief, following a recent ruling.

October 2019

This update was published in Legal Alert - October 2019

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

An employee at the Ministry of Defence believed deeply in Scottish independence. He argued he had been treated less favourably at work, for example, his security clearance was revoked when he announced he was to contest the SNP deputy leadership election in 2016. He claimed direct discrimination on grounds of his philosophical belief in Scotland’s right to national sovereignty.

To qualify as a philosophical belief capable of protection under discrimination law, a belief must:

  • be genuinely held;
  • be more than an opinion (otherwise all political views would qualify for protection under discrimination law);
  • relate to a ‘weighty and substantial’ aspect of human life and behavior;
  • have a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • be worthy of respect in democratic society; and
  • not be incompatible with human dignity.

As a preliminary issue, the Employment Tribunal had to decide whether a belief in Scottish independence could amount to a philosophical belief for this purpose – and ruled that it could.

This means that workers with deeply held beliefs about similar issues, such as either leaving or remaining in the European Union, who think they have been treated less favourably than other employees as a result, could now be more likely to consider bringing a discrimination claim.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Employers whose workforce include individuals with strong beliefs about Scottish independence, Brexit or similar issues should beware treating those individuals less favourably than other workers, or risk a potential discrimination claim on grounds of philosophical belief.

Case ref: McEleny v Ministry of Defence ET 2019

Disclaimer: This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.

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