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Warning For Promoting Christianity To A Junior Colleague Was Not Unlawful Religious Discrimination

In a decision which has attracted some media attention, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that a Christian employee who was given a formal warning for inappropriately promoting her religious beliefs at work had not been subject to unlawful religious discrimination or harassment.

In Wasteney v East London NHS Trust, complaints had been made to the employer, East London NHS Trust, by a junior worker of Muslim faith against the Claimant, a colleague, who was a Christian. The complaints related to various interactions with the Claimant which the junior worker characterised as "grooming". The complaints related to the Claimant's offering to pray for the junior worker, inviting her to various services and events at the Claimant's Church, the “laying on of hands” and the Claimant giving a book to the junior worker about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. 

The Claimant, who describes herself as a “born-again Christian”, was given a written warning after her employer found her guilty of serious misconduct by blurring professional boundaries and the subjection of her junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted conduct.

The Claimant brought claims in the Employment Tribunal (ET) for direct discrimination and harassment because of/related to her religion or belief. The ET rejected the claims and the Claimant appealed to the EAT.

The EAT dismissed the appeal, holding that there was a distinction to be drawn between an employee manifesting their religious belief in voluntary and consensual exchanges with a colleague, and the actions of the Claimant in subjecting a more junior employee to unwanted and unwelcome conduct, going substantially beyond "religious discussion".

The EAT also held that article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) did not give the Claimant "a complete and unfettered right to discuss or act on her religious beliefs at work irrespective of the views of others or her employer".

Employees should take care to ensure that, whilst they are entitled to discuss and manifest their religious belief at work, they should not step over the line into the realm of unwanted and unwelcome comments or conduct.

This bulletin is for general guidance purposes only and should not be used for any other purpose.

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