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18 July 2013

Thou Shalt Not Lie

A telesales worker recently claimed that he was dismissed for refusing to lie to customers and that this constituted religious discrimination, as lying conflicted with his Christian beliefs.

The Equality Act 2010 protects a worker from discrimination on account of their religion or any religious or philosophical belief they hold (Hawkins v Universal Utilities Limited).

However, he failed to provide evidence in support of his claim and the Employment Tribunal accepted the employer’s version of events, which was that he had been dismissed because he had failed to meet his sales targets.

There is no specific list of religions or beliefs that qualify for protection. Less widely practised religions are protected as well as major ones, provided they have a structured belief system.

The legislation also protects workers who do not adhere to a particular (or any) religion or belief, so atheism qualifies for protection under the Act.

The case of Nicholson v Grainger plc established that for a philosophical belief to be protected, it must:

• be genuinely held;
• be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
• be a belief about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
• attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
• be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

The nature of any belief must therefore be tested on the individual facts in each case.

Furthermore, even when it is acknowledged that an individual claimant’s religion or belief qualifies them for protection under the Act, that person still has to prove that he or she has suffered less favourable treatment and that this was on account of their religion or belief.

Contact employment law associate Hannah Simpson for advice on any aspect of discrimination law.

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Phone: +44 (0) 1753 889995


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