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Religion in the workplace

Background

Ms Wasteney was a senior employee at East London NHS Trust (“the Trust”). A junior female Muslim colleague raised complaints with the Trust stating that Ms Wasteney had tried to impose her Christian views on her, had repeatedly invited her to Church services, sent her tickets to Christian events, asked to pray with her and even gave her a book concerning the conversion of a female Muslim to the Christian faith.

As a result of the complaint, Ms Wasteney was given a final warning, reduced on appeal to a written warning, for blurring professional boundaries and subjecting a junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted conduct.

ET claims

Ms Wasteney made a claim to the Employment Tribunal for direct discrimination and harassment because of her religion. The Employment Tribunal at first instance found that the disciplinary sanction imposed was not because of her religion or belief and was because of her inappropriate actions which amounted to unwanted and unwelcome conduct.

Ms Wasteney appealed to the EAT on grounds including that the Tribunal had failed to pay proper regard to her right to manifest her religious belief under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The EAT dismissed the appeal. While recognising that the right under Article 9 is guaranteed, in reality it is also qualified and should not infringe on the right and freedoms of others. The EAT upheld the Employment Tribunal decision that Ms Wasteney had been subjected to the disciplinary action, not because of her religious beliefs, but because she subjected a subordinate colleague to unwanted and unwelcome conduct.

Lessons

It will always be important for employers to approach issues such as these with sensitivity but it is clear from this decision that an employer may still be free to impose disciplinary sanctions when an employee improperly and inappropriately seeks to impose their beliefs on others.

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