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Poppy wearing did not amount to a philosophical belief

In Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd, an employment judge ruled that a belief that a poppy must be worn as a sign of respect did not amount to a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

Mr Lisk claimed that when his employer allegedly prevented him from wearing a poppy at work from 2 November 2010, this amounted to direct discrimination because of his philosophical belief, i.e. that: “we should pay our respects to those who have given their lives for us by wearing a poppy from All Souls’ Day on 2 November to Remembrance Sunday”; or “it is necessary to show respect to those who gave their lives by wearing a poppy”.

The employment judge had no doubt that Mr Lisk does believe he is entitled to wear a poppy and takes the wearing of that emblem very seriously, but the question was whether that belief comes within the definition of the protected characteristic of a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, and to make that decision, the test set out in Grainger plc v Nicholson [2010] IRLR 4 EAT applied.

In the judge’s view it is not simply a question of whether to respect someone’s choice to wear a poppy, but whether there is a belief underpinning that choice capable of constituting a philosophical belief. The judge decided that Mr Lisk’s belief is too narrow to be a philosophical belief because it is a belief in expressing support for the sacrifice of others and not a belief in itself. Although a belief in wearing a poppy to show respect is admirable, it fell short of two of the Grainger principles in that it lacks the characteristics of cogency, cohesion and importance and cannot be described as relating to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior.

While applying the Grainger principles has resulted in beliefs such a those in climate change and anti-fox hunting coming within the scope of the law’s protection, this decision shows that even though a belief may be worthy, passionately believing in something just in itself is simply not enough to meet all the conditions that Grainger requires. A philosophical belief must be something that shapes the way a person lives their life.

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