Belief in participatory democracy is protected under the Equality Act


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The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held in Scottish Federation of Housing Associations v Jones that a belief in participatory democracy is a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).  

Ms Jones was employed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) under a contract which prevented her having a "formal role" of a political nature.  Being politically neutral was described as a fundamental aspect of SFHA's operations. In October 2019 Ms Jones informed SFHA that she wanted to stand for Scottish Labour in the next General Election. SFHA did not consent so she withdrew her candidature. However, a month later she was dismissed.  She claimed that she had been discriminated against on the ground of her belief that "those with the relevant skills, ability and passion should participate in the democratic process" and that this was a philosophical belief.

At first instance the tribunal held that Ms Jones's belief was capable of protection and, on appeal, the EAT agreed. It held that a belief in a participatory democracy satisfies the criteria set out in Grainger plc and ors v Nicholson. It is a belief that relates to a crucial aspect of the form of government exercised in the UK. It was easy to accept that Ms Jones's belief was a serious one. Her decision to stand for Parliament demonstrated that she took her belief seriously and was demonstrative of the genuineness of her beliefs.

Ms Jones had also sought to argue that the reason, or principal reason for her dismissal was, or related to, her political opinions or affiliation (section 108(4) Employment Rights Act 1996). She did not have the requisite two years' service to bring an unfair dismissal claim, but there is no minimum qualifying period for a claim that an individual has been dismissed due to their political opinions or affiliation. At first instance the tribunal held that she had been dismissed for not being politically neutral, but the EAT held that section 108(4) did not apply. It reasoned that the legislative provision was designed to address dismissals arising from the content of a person's political opinions or the identity of the party with which the person is affiliated and so did not apply here. Section 108(4) was created following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Redfearn v United Kingdom, a case involving a bus driver and BNP member who was dismissed because his political opinions and affiliation caused his employer operational difficulties it was anxious to avoid.

Take note: In Grainger (where the criteria necessary for a belief to receive the protection of the EqA 2010 is set out) it was held that, while the support of a political party does not of itself amount to a philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine may qualify. Following the decision in Jones it is clear that a belief in participatory democracy will be protected under the EqA 2010.

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