June 30, 2016

Meaning of "Philosophical Belief" Under U.K. Discrimination Law

In Harron v Dorset Police UKEAT/0234/15/DA, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered the scope of "philosophical belief" for the purposes of U.K. discrimination law.

Mr Harron worked for the Dorset police force. He had a belief in the "proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector." He claimed that he suffered discrimination because of this belief which he alleged amounted to a "philosophical belief," one of the protected characteristics under U.K. discrimination law. The Employment Tribunal rejected his claim as it did not think his belief was sufficient to establish a "philosophical belief." On appeal, the EAT found that Mr Harron's belief could potentially amount to a "philosophical belief," but the Employment Tribunal had not applied the correct test. The EAT confirmed the requirements of the test were as follows: (i) the belief must be genuinely held, (ii) it must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available, (iii) it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, (iv) it must have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and (v) it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and compatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others. The EAT sent the case back to the Employment Tribunal for reconsideration using the above test.

This decision is somewhat surprising, and employers should keep in mind that the concept of "philosophical belief" is extremely wide and has been found to potentially cover a belief in climate change.

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