Balancing conflicting views in the workplace
Can you dismiss an employee for voicing religious views at work?
The case of Page v Lord Chancellor decided that a magistrate had not been discriminated against after he was dismissed for declining to order a same-sex adoption, due to his Christian beliefs.
This is the most recent judgment in a string of cases which deals with how conflicting rights in the workplace should be decided. This decision confirms that whilst in the workplace, religious views do not overrule the protections afforded by the Equality Act particularly in a job that requires employees to make decisions with a neutral view.
In the facts of this case, Mr Page was a lay magistrate for family cases and as part of his job, he was required to make decisions on adoption. Mr Page was a practising Christian and had a very strong view on the idea of same-sex adoption and believed that children should have a mother and a father. In 2014, Mr Page was hearing a case which involved a same-sex adoption application and he told his fellow magistrates that he did not agree with same-sex couple adoption even though an expert report had supported it. He also gave an interview to BBC Breakfast News where he said that he considered his responsibility as a magistrate was to consider what was “best for the child” and his feeling was “it would be better if it was a man and a woman who were the adopted parents.” As a result of this view, and his interactions with the media, Mr Page was disciplined and eventually removed as a magistrate in 2016.
The Employment Tribunal held that the decision to remove Mr Page as a magistrate was not discriminatory. The Court of Appeal followed the Tribunal and upheld the original decision. The Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Page was not removed because of his religious beliefs or because he had raised concerns with discrimination in the workplace but because he had made it clear to his magistrates and through media channels that he was not willing to carry out his judicial role in a non-biased manner and in accordance with the standard that was expected of him. It was also added in the Court of Appeal’s judgment that “it would be surprising if a judicial office holder, having publicly declared an apparently pre-determined and biased approach against a potential group of adopters, could be shielded from any form of action to address impartiality”, therefore saying that he could not be protected from the consequences of having a bias approach.
With this judgment, the Court of Appeal has reinforced the message that employees should be careful to take a neutral approach in the workplace. This case does not prevent individuals from holding religious views or beliefs but makes clear that if an employee is in a job which requires them to apply a non-biased approach, they should not allow personal faith to interfere with their responsibilities.
This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter.
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