When is a philosophical belief protected by law?

by | Feb 24, 2020

Back in November 2019, we reported on the employment tribunal’s decision in Connisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd [2018], that a barman’s belief in vegetarianism and animal welfare was not enough for him to be protected from discrimination on the grounds of his religion or belief. The tribunal described Mr Connisbee’s vegetarianism as a lifestyle choice that did not have the same status as a religious belief. The tribunal mused that vegans had a more coherent, underlying shared belief and veganism might be protected by the Equality Act 2010.

Only a few months later, in Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports [2020], an employment tribunal agreed with a former employee of the League Against Cruel Sports, that his ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief. The tribunal took into account the effect of his belief on his life, which included walking rather than taking a bus to avoid crashes with insects or birds and giving speeches at animal protection demonstrations.

Another case on philosophical belief made the headlines at the end of 2019. This involved a belief that there are two biological sexes in humans and it is not possible to change sex. In Forstater v CGD Europe [2019], Ms Forstater argued that the think tank she worked for as a consultant refused to engage her on a new contract because of comments she made on social media about transgender issues. Her employer had received complaints that Ms Forstater’s comments were transphobic.

The employment tribunal did not agree that her philosophical belief was protected by the Equality Act 2010. There are a number of hurdles that a claimant must get over for their belief to be treated as a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010.

Ms Forstater’s belief met many of the criteria; it was found to be genuinely held, it was a belief to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and it had cogency, however it was incompatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others. Ms Forstater believed that holding a gender recognition certificate was a mere legal fiction. The tribunal pointed out that the right to transition in the UK put into effect human rights as identified by the European Court of Human Rights. A belief denying those rights was not worthy of respect in a democratic society. 

These decisions are all at tribunal level and do not bind other tribunals. However, they are an interesting reminder that this is a complex area of law and employers should tread carefully where an individual’s beliefs may influence the employer’s decisions about employing or engaging that individual.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

FOR MORE INFORMATION get in touch today!