Georgina Folkes, solicitor at Withy King, explains the changes in the definition of the Employment Equality Regulations and what that means for employers.
The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, which prohibit discrimination relating to religion or belief, were amended on 30th April 2007 to change the definition of ‘religion or belief’.
Previously the definition included “any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief”. The new definition is the same but with the removal of the word ‘similar’.
Although this appears to be a small change, it does in fact considerably widen the scope of what might be regarded as a ‘philosophical belief’.
The importance of this change to the law can be seen in the case of Baggs v Fudge (2007) in which a member of the British National Party (BNP) claimed that fascism should be considered a ‘similar philosophical belief’ as a basis for a discrimination claim (the old definition was applicable when the claim was brought).
In this case, Mr Baggs was not interviewed for a job as a practice manager in a small medical practice because he was an active member of the BNP. Consequently, he brought a claim of direct discrimination on the grounds of his ‘similar philosophical belief’.
Mr Baggs’s discrimination claim was struck out because it was held that the philosophical belief would have to be similar in nature to a religious belief by virtue of the word ‘similar’ in the definition. Had the claim been brought since 30th April 2007, Mr Baggs may well have been successful with his claim.
The change to the regulations will therefore considerably widen the scope of what might be regarded as a philosophical belief and there is likely to be further case law on precisely what is covered by philosophical belief.
There has been some debate in the House of Lords as to the extent of the definition and early indications are the legislation will be interpreted in accordance with European case law which has determined that “….the beliefs intended are those that amount to a world view or life stance.”
This will mean that many new groups of people will be protected by the amended regulations, possibly including those believing in animal rights activism, Marxism, Scientology, and even those in more unusual groups such as the Legalise Cannabis Alliance or the Xtraordinary People Party.
Employers should be careful when dealing with any employee who holds fundamental political beliefs, religious beliefs or wider ‘life stance’ particularly in relation to any actions which could lead to an accusation of discrimination.
For further advice on this topic please contact Georgina Folkes at Withy King Solicitors on 01793 536 526 or email [email protected]