An Employment Tribunal has found that an employee's belief in "democratic socialism" could amount to a "philosophical belief" that was protected under the Equality Act.

Background

Under the Equality Act 2010 ("Equality Act"), it is unlawful to discriminate or harass someone on the grounds of their religion and/or religious or philosophical belief.  In Grainger v Nicholson, the EAT gave guidance on the meaning of "philosophical belief" for the purposes of defining a religion or belief in the (then) 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations.  A copy of our previous alert on Graingercan be found here. The Equality Act 2010 includes a definition of "philosophical belief" in the same terms.

Olivier v Department of Work and Pensions

In this case, an employee of the Department of Work and Pensions ("DWP") was dismissed after he was elected as a Labour Councilor and had a letter published in the local newspaper which criticized the Government's benefits policies, in breach of the DWP's policies. 

He brought claims for philosophical belief discrimination and unfair dismissal.  At a preliminary hearing, Mr. Olivier argued that the Labour Party is not simply an organization but instead enshrines a set of core beliefs that are recognized by the general public.  These beliefs are summarized on the Labour Party's membership card and can essentially be described as a belief in "democratic socialism". 

Decision

Applying the criteria in Grainger, the Tribunal held that the belief in "democratic socialism" constituted a philosophical belief.

Comment

Although not binding on other Tribunals, this decision illustrates the distinction between a belief based on political philosophy (which is capable of being protected under the Equality Act) and merely supporting a political party (which is unlikely to constitute a qualifying philosophical belief). 

The Olivier case is the latest in what has become a long line of cases where Tribunals have had to grapple with the Grainger criteria.  The picture that emerges is not entirely consistent.

To date, Tribunals have found that the following beliefs ARE capable of amounting to "philosophical beliefs":

  • a passionate belief in the sanctity of life which included anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing, (Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd T/A Orchard Park Garden Centre);
  • a belief in the "higher purpose" of public service broadcasting i.e. to encourage debate and citizen-ship in a public space, (Maistry v BBC);
  • a belief in spiritualism, life after death and the ability of mediums to contact the dead, (Greater Manchester Police Authority v Power);
  • a belief that "it is wrong to lie under any circumstances", (Hawkins v Universal Utilities Ltd); and
  • a belief in "democratic socialism" as enshrined by the Labour Party's core beliefs, (Olivier v Department of Work and Pensions).

but NOT:

  • a belief that the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks were "false flag operations" and part of a conspiracy by the UK and US governments, (Farrell v South Yorkshire Police Authority);
  • Marxist/Trotskyist political beliefs, (Kelly v Unison);
  • an employee's belief in his "cultural identity and ancestry, including the promotion and celebration of English culture and history", (Marsden L'Anson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police);
  • a belief in "consensual slavery" and a "BDSM" (bondage, discipline and sado-masochistic) lifestyle, (Shepherd v North and East Hertford Health Authority);
  • a belief that people should pay their respects by wearing a poppy from 2 November to Remembrance Sunday, (Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd); and
  • a belief that the Jewish religion's professed belief was that Jews were "God's chosen people", (Arya v London Borough of Waltham Forest).

It is of course important to note that, with the exception of the EAT inGreater Manchester Police Authority v Power above, these decisions are only at Tribunal level and so not binding.