In this case, the EAT considered whether an employer had unlawfully discriminated against an employee who imposed her religious views on a junior colleague.

The facts

Complaints had been made by a junior worker, who was a Muslim, against Miss Wasteney, who described herself as a "born again Christian". The complaints related to various interactions with Miss Wasteney, which the junior worker characterised as "grooming". This included praying with the junior worker and the laying on of hands, giving her a book which concerned the conversion to Christianity of a Muslim woman, and inviting her to various services at events at Miss Wasteney's church. The employer had investigated the complaints under its disciplinary procedure and had found her guilty of serious misconduct – the blurring of professional boundaries and the subjection of a junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted conduct. Miss Wasteney was given a final written warning and this was reduced on appeal to a first written warning. Miss Wasteney brought claims of direct discrimination and harassment because of/related to her religion or belief. The Employment Tribunal rejected her claims and she appealed.

The EAT dismissed the appeal. The Judge said that Miss Wasteney's claim was based on the interactions with the junior colleague having been "consensual". However, the employer had not taken action against Miss Wasteney on that basis and the Employment Tribunal had made findings of fact that the interactions were not consensual. Miss Wasteney had not been subjected to disciplinary action and a sanction because she manifested her belief in voluntary and consensual exchanges, but because she subjected a subordinate to unwanted and unwelcome conduct, going substantially beyond "religious discussion", without regard to her own influential position. Miss Wasteney had been disciplined because of her inappropriate actions, not the manifestation of her belief.

What does this mean for employers?

This is a difficult area for employers, and there is a fine distinction between disciplining an employee for manifesting a religious belief (which would be unlawful discrimination) and for imposing religious views on colleagues who have not consented and may be offended and/or intimidated by what is said. Employers need to consider carefully the nature and level of concerns raised by employees: is the employee upset by a difference in religious opinion, or does the employee feel intimidated or oppressed by intrusive actions of a colleague, particularly where the colleague is senior to them? If an employee's actions are clearly unwanted by the recipient, disciplinary action may be appropriate.

Wasterney v East London NHS Foundation Trust EAT 0157/15