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I believe.....that I should be protected in Law....

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I believe…..that I should be protected in Law….

The Equality Act 2010 is the main piece of Anti-discrimination legislation in the UK; protecting employees from less favourable treatment by their employers on a number of "protected characteristics". One of the 9 protected characteristics is "Religion or belief". There is no definition, or list of religions/beliefs in the Act.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, since the introduction of the Act one question that keeps coming back to the Courts and Employment Tribunals is "Does my belief enjoy protected status under the Act"  - Is this something entirely subjective; down to each person's viewpoint, or is it an objective test, based on a set list of religions and quasi-religious beliefs?

To date, a number of different beliefs have been put forward by Claimants as constituting a protected religion or belief under the law – examples include:

  • Anti-fox hunting
  • Belief in the higher importance of public service broadcasting
  • Belief in the overarching importance of truthfulness
  • Belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories
  • Membership of the BNP
  • Spiritualism

In response to these types of claims, the Court has developed a 5-part test for Employment Tribunals to apply to determine if any particular belief should enjoy the protection of the  Act.

The test (summarised) is set out below:

  1. The belief must be genuinely held by the Claimant;
  2. It must be a "belief", not an opinion or viewpoint;
  3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  4. It must attain a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity, nor conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

(Readers may wish to apply this test to the above examples!)

The latest belief to be put forward as meriting protection under the Act is Vegetarianism.

In the case of Connisbee v Crossley Farms the Employment Tribunal held that although Mr Connisbee's belief in vegetarianism did pass parts 1,2 and 5 of the test above, it did not meet parts 3 and 4 and so Mr Connisbee was not protected from less favourable treatment on the grounds of his vegetarianism under the Act.

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