Belief in “Democratic Socialism” Protected under Equality Act

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Posted on 22 Jan 2014

An employee’s belief in “democratic socialism” as enshrined in the Labour Party’s core values qualified as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

In Olivier v Department of Work and Pensions, O worked in a job centre as a benefits adviser. In 2013 he was elected as a Labour Councillor and had a letter published in a local newspaper criticising the Government’s taxation and benefits policy. He had been a member of the Labour Party for over 30 years, had stood as a Labour candidate in other council elections, had canvassed on behalf of the Labour Party and campaigned against hospital closures. O was dismissed for gross misconduct for not seeking permission before standing as a councillor in breach of the Council’s Standards of Behaviour Procedures and for writing the letter to the newspaper. He claimed discrimination on grounds of philosophical belief.

O believed that the Labour Party enshrined a set of core beliefs, displayed on its membership card, that are recognised by the general public and which he considered amounted to democratic socialism. His strong belief in these values influenced how he conducted his life.

A preliminary hearing took place to consider whether O’s belief in democratic socialism qualified as a philosophical belief. The tribunal was satisfied that O had more than a passing interest in, and was not merely a repeat voter for, the Labour Party. He had a strong connection with and interest in the history and tenets of the Socialist Labour Party. He lived for the Labour Party, supporting its aims, beliefs and causes. O had a personal belief in democratic socialism and was not simply a “political animal”.

It considered that O’s belief was a belief, rather than merely an opinion or viewpoint, it was a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and it had attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. It was genuinely held and worthy of respect in a democratic society. It therefore qualified for protection.

This case demonstrates that although support of a political party will not normally qualify for protection, where a belief is not simply a political belief but is more akin to a political philosophy affecting how a person conducts their life, it may be protected.    The employment tribunal will now have to consider whether the reason for O’s dismissal was his belief in democratic socialism.

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