Tribunal decision - wearing a remembrance poppy is not a “philosophical belief”

21 March 2012

After a string of philosophical belief cases finding in favour of employees, including one which held that a belief in climate change was capable of being a philosophical belief, a recent decision has indicated the limits beyond which employment tribunals are not prepared to go in assigning protection under the Equality Act 2010.

In Lisk v Shield Guardian Company Limited, Mr Lisk argued that the Respondent’s refusal to allow him to wear a poppy to work from 2 November to 11 November was direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of his protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.  He gave evidence that he considered this period, as an ex-serviceman, one of intense mourning intended to show respect for the sacrifice given by others, which was as serious as the Christian observance of Lent. 

The employment judge considered Mr Lisk’s claim in light of the guidelines set out in Granger plc v Nicholson, which set the boundaries of what constitutes a protected “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act 2010 and, previously, the Religion and Belief Regulations 2004.  The tribunal said that the Granger case required that Mr Lisk’s beliefs needed cohesion, cogency and importance.  Mr Lisk’s belief failed this test and the tribunal also found that it was not a belief that could be described as being one relating to a “weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”.

The employment judge said that Mr Lisk’s beliefs were admirable but too narrow to be considered a protectable “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act 2010.

This is a welcome case for employers.  When originally drafted, the Religion and Belief Regulations 2004 and subsequently the Equality Act 2010 were intended to protect beliefs which, although religious, were of an equal seriousness and standing to their adherence.  Atheism and humanism, for examples, would not be regarded as religions (nor would they want to be) but would be considered by most as being an equally substantial code of belief.  Employers have been increasingly concerned that too many “beliefs” are being given protection under the relevant provisions of what is now the Equality Act 2010 and this is a welcome sign that there are limits beyond which the tribunals are not prepared to go.

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