14 April 2016 #Employment
The EAT has held in Wasteney v East London NHS Foundation Trust that a Christian senior manager was not discriminated against when she was subjected to disciplinary proceedings for imposing her religious views on a Muslim junior employee.
Ms Wasteney (W), of Christian faith, was employed in a senior capacity by the East London NHS Foundation Trust. A junior colleague (“EN”), of Muslim faith, complained that W had tried to impose her religious view on her; inviting her to church events on several occasions, praying for her during a 1:1 meeting, ‘laying hands’ on her and giving her a book about a Muslim woman converting to Christianity. A disciplinary process commenced and W was issued with a written warning.
W pursued claims in the Employment Tribunal (and later the Employment Appeal Tribunal), alleging that subjecting her to disciplinary proceedings amounted to discrimination and harassment in relation to her religion or belief. She also claimed that ‘sharing her faith with a consenting colleague’ was a manifestation of her religious belief and thus her employer had breached of her right under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights to manifest religious belief in the workplace.
Her claims were dismissed. Whilst religious acts formed part of the context to the disciplinary, the employer’s actions in disciplining W were on the basis that W had subjected a subordinate to unwanted and unwelcome conduct that amounted to far more than just religious discussion and had done so without regard to her own influential, senior position. EN had felt that she was being ‘groomed’ by W and made serious complaints. W’s acts blurred professional boundaries and placed improper pressure on EN. The Employment Appeal Tribunal commented that this approach must be right “otherwise an employer’s attempt to discipline an employee for the harassment of a co-worker related to (e.g.) the co-worker’s religion or belief could itself be characterised as harassment related to that protected characteristic.”
Religious discussion, which may include seeking to convince others of the benefits of a particular religion, may amount to a manifestation of religion or belief, however, this case makes clear that where an employee’s actions overstep the mark and become inappropriate, an employer may be justified in imposing a disciplinary sanction. Employers going down the disciplinary route must ensure that a similar approach would have been taken if non-religious views had been advanced in the same manner.