Brexit Bites - Part 3: The European Union as a philosophical belief
You might remember that there was a flurry of cases a while back which set out a number of (perhaps surprising) philosophical beliefs which could qualify for protection under UK law. A belief in the danger of climate change, anti-fox hunting beliefs and a belief in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting were all found to be protectable beliefs.
Is it possible then that an individual might argue that their belief in the sanctity of the European Union and/or the UK’s membership of it qualifies as a protectable belief under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) entitling them to protections as a result? Quite possibly.
What constitutes a philosophical belief under the EqA?
In order to qualify for protection, a philosophical belief must be genuinely held, relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life, attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and be worthy of respect in a democratic society. It must not be incompatible with human dignity nor conflict with the fundamental rights of others. It does not need to be a fully-fledged system of thought, nor does it need to be shared by others.
Interestingly, support of a political party and political beliefs have been considered in past case law. Some years before the EqA came into force, a number of Tribunal claims were brought arguing that a belief in the BNP’s political views amounted to a protectable belief. These claims were given short shrift by the Court on the basis that the belief was not sufficiently “religious” in nature. However, the requirement for a belief to be akin to a religious belief was removed a number of years ago. Whilst support of a political party does not amount to a philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine might qualify, making way for an argument that a belief around the EU and the UK’s membership of it qualifies for protection.
What would happen if the belief qualifies?
The EqA prohibits direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. So if a worker is treated less favourably than his or her peers (for example appraisal scores, redundancy selection, dismissal) because of their belief in the fundamental principles of the European Union, they could potentially bring a tribunal claim for direct discrimination. Equally, if a line manager refused to give a good reference to a departing employee because they had brought such a tribunal claim, the line manager’s refusal could amount to unlawful victimisation.
It might seem obscure at first glance, but given the nation’s polarised views on Brexit, it is not entirely improbable that we will see such claims coming out of the woodwork in the next couple of years.
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