S.10 of the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) provides protection against unlawful acts on grounds of religion or belief, with 'belief' defined as any religious or philosophical belief, or lack of such belief. Employment tribunals continue to be tasked with deciding whether a particular 'belief' comes within the statutory definition and in doing so, have to apply the five point test laid out by the EAT in Paragraph 24 of Grainger plc v Nicholson UKEAT/0219/09. A recent employment tribunal case, Anderson v Chesterfield High School, highlights the wide range of beliefs which Claimants argue are protected by the EA 2010 and shows how the Grainger test is applied.
Anderson was a social inclusion officer at a school. He had been active in local politics for a number of years and became Liverpool Council leader, from which point he entered into an extended leave arrangement to fulfill his public duties. When Anderson was elected Mayor of Liverpool for a four-year term, the employer ended the leave arrangement and terminated his employment. Part of his unfair dismissal claim was direct discrimination because of his belief, i.e. “A philosophical commitment to public service for the common good.” The preliminary issue for the tribunal was whether his belief was protected by S.10 EA 2010. The tribunal decided that it was, and the process it used is a useful example to employers of how the Grainger test should be applied:
1. Did Anderson genuinely hold the belief? – yes – his passion for public service was evident to the tribunal and was not disputed by the employer.
2. Was it a belief and not simply an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available? – yes – Anderson had held the belief for as long as he had been an adult and there was no basis on which to find that it was an opinion or viewpoint liable to change, if information changed.
3. Was it a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour? – yes – the concept of public service for the common good was a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour: it goes to the heart of the debate as to what sort of society we should have.
4. Does the belief attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance? – yes – the belief was not trivial or lacking persuasiveness: it was logical, convincing and cohesive because it forms a united whole.
5. Is the belief worthy of respect in a democratic society, and not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others? – yes – the belief is worthy of respect in a democratic society, is entirely compatible with human dignity and does not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
The tribunal, however, rejected the discrimination claim. A hypothetical comparator on leave from the school for the same period who took up an external role which in principle was a four-year commitment and which had remuneration at the same level but with no element of public service, would have been treated in the same way.
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This provides summary information and comment on the subject areas covered. Where employment tribunal and appellate court cases are reported, the information does not set out all of the facts, the legal arguments presented and the judgments made in every aspect of the case. Employment law is subject to constant change either by statute or by interpretation by the courts. While every care has been taken in compiling this information, we cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Specialist legal advice must be taken on any legal issues that may arise before embarking upon any formal course of action.