Hermione ‘Grainger’ and the Philosopher’s Tome.

The Equality Act 2010 seeks to protect employees from discrimination on the basis of a number of protected characteristics, one being religion or belief (or lack thereof). Although, what constitutes a ‘religion’ may be more straightforward, a ‘belief’ is less clear-cut. The legislation defines ‘belief’ as any religious or philosophical belief, or a lack of belief.

So when we are outside the realm of religion, what counts as a ‘belief’? Three recent cases have approached the question of both religious and philosophical beliefs.

The case of Grainger plc and others v Nicholson (2010) involved a belief in climate change and the EAT gave guidance as to what amounts to a philosophical belief for the purposes of discrimination legislation. It stated that the belief must:

  • Be genuinely held.
  • Be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
  • Have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief but that it need not allude to a fully-fledged system of thought or be shared by others.

In the recent case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others, the ET held that vegetarianism was not a philosophical belief, despite noting that it was worthy of respect in a democratic society. It was held that it was a lifestyle choice and did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior. It also did not attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness or cohesion as the reason for being a vegetarian differs greatly.

In Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd the employee claimed that the right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output (except when produced on behalf of an employer) was a philosophical belief. The EAT held it was not sufficiently cohesive to form any cogent philosophical belief system. The Court of Appeal dismissed the employee’s appeal but did not comment on whether the employee’s belief was a protected philosophical belief, as it found that her belief was not linked to the reason for her not signing a copyright agreement or the subsequent decision to dismiss her.

Finally, in Mackereth v The Department for Work and Pensions and another a doctor refused to address transgender patients by their chosen pronoun. The Tribunal accepted that the doctor’s Christianity was protected under the Equality Act 2010 but they did not agree that his lack of belief in transgenderism was a protected belief because it was incompatible with human dignity and conflicted with the fundamental rights of others.

Despite the above cases going against the employees, employers should be aware that an employee’s non-religious belief may still be amount to a protected ‘philosophical belief’. Conversely, a religious belief may not always be protected.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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