Disciplinary Action for Imposing Religious Views Not Religious Discrimination
An employer who disciplined an employee who tried to foist her religion on to a junior member of staff had not discriminated against the employee on grounds of her religion.
An employer who disciplined an employee who tried to foist her religion on to a junior member of staff had not discriminated against her on grounds of her religion. The reason for the warning was not the employee’s religion but the inappropriate way in which she manifested it. This resulted in a blurring of professional boundaries between a senior and junior member of staff in respect of which the employer was entitled to take disciplinary action.
In Wasteney v East London NHS Foundation Trust, Ms Wasteney was employed as Head of Forensic Occupational Therapy at a mental health services facility. She describes herself as a born again Christian. The Trust received a complaint from a Muslim junior member of staff. The Trust investigated and concluded that three allegations were made out: Ms Wasteney had given the junior employee a book promoting conversion to Christianity; she had prayed for the junior employee during a 1:1 meeting and laid hands on her; and she had invited her on several occasions to church functions. The Trust considered that Ms Wasteney had failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries in light of her seniority and issued her with a final written warning. This was downgraded to a first written warning on appeal, with a recommendation of training.
Ms Wasteney claimed direct discrimination and harassment on grounds of religion or belief.
Employment Tribunal Decision
The employment tribunal ruled that the Trust had not discriminated against her. Whilst the context of the disciplinary process was religious acts, the reason for the warning was because these acts blurred professional boundaries and placed improper pressure on a junior employee. It was not because they were religious acts. The tribunal was satisfied that the Trust would have taken a similar approach had Ms Wasteney been pressing a non-religious point of view. The tribunal also rejected Ms Wasteney’s argument that the disciplinary process was oppressive and amounted to harassment.
Ms Wasteney appealed, arguing that the tribunal had failed to take sufficient account of her right under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights to manifest her religious belief.
Employment Appeal Tribunal Decision
The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed the appeal. The manifestation of religious belief she relied on was the “sharing of her faith with a consenting colleague”. However, the employment tribunal had not found that the Trust took disciplinary action because she shared her faith with a consenting colleague but because the conduct was unwelcome and unwanted, had blurred professional boundaries and placed improper pressure on the junior employee.
Employees are entitled to manifest their religion or beliefs at work, but their right to do so is not unfettered and has to take into account the rights of other employees. Employers are entitled to take disciplinary action against an employee if the way in which an employee manifests their belief is inappropriate. In such cases, the reason for the disciplinary action is not religion but the employee’s inappropriate conduct and so taking disciplinary action in these circumstances will not amount to discrimination.
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