The Court of Appeal has concluded that a Christian nurse who conducted religious discussions with patients was dismissed fairly. This case highlights an important distinction between the permissible manifestation of a religious belief (which was emphasised in the well-known European Court of Justice case of Eweida v British Airways, relating to the wearing of a discreet religious symbol) and the inappropriate promotion of that belief in the workplace.
The nurse had to complete pre-operative assessments. She frequently engaged in religious discussions with patients which resulted in complaints: in one instance a patient complained that he was told if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of survival.
The nurse was issued with a management instruction not to have unwanted religious discussions with patients. Although she ostensibly accepted this instruction she continued with her conduct, for example giving one patient a bible and persuading another to sing a psalm with her during the pre-operative assessment.
Following further complaints, the nurse was dismissed for gross misconduct. She later issued an unfair dismissal claim and although she did not issue a discrimination claim, alleged a breach of a European Convention right (freedom of thought, conscience and religion).
All her claims were ultimately dismissed and no breaches were found. In particular, consideration was given to her right to freedom of religion. This was not a case involving a blanket ban on religious speech, as suggested by the nurse.
The case highlights that there is a difference between inappropriate preaching and promotion of a religious belief and being prevented from manifesting your religious belief, as in Eweida. The nurse’s conduct fell into the former category and was inappropriate.
Tensions can exist where an employee is very passionate about their religion or belief but this case demonstrates once again the difference between respecting people’s views, which employers must do, and allowing them actively to proselytise them, which employers in most cases need not allow.