Religion in the Workplace: Case Report
Manifestation of religious beliefs in the workplace was the focus of this case, where the Employment Appeal Tribunal had to determine whether a disciplinary warning related to the religious beliefs was an act of discrimination.
The employee worked for the Respondent NHS Trust since 2007 as the Head of Forensic Occupational Therapy; a senior managerial position at the mental health services unit. The Claimant self-identified as a “born again” Christian and attended the Christian Revival Church.
In June 2013, the employer received a complaint alleging that Ms Wasteney had improperly used her managerial position to impose her religious views on a junior colleague. The complaint was filed by an Occupational Therapist (referred to as EN) in her first 12 months of practice who started work for the Respondent in July 2012. EN was a female Pakistani national of Muslim faith who was on her first extended period away from home. There were several allegations: Ms Wasteney had invited EN to church events on multiple occasions, gave her tickets to Church events, a DVD and later a book about a Muslim Pakistani woman who converted to Christianity, prayed for her multiple times and even on one occasion placed hands on EN’s injured knee to pray. These prayers lasted 10 minutes, after which EN excused herself as she became upset but Ms Wasteney had followed her out of the room. EN’s complaint stated that the Claimant’s behaviour had “completely ruined her first year of practice.”
The Claimant was disciplined for engaging in acts of proselytising and given a final written warning which was reduced to a first written warning. She claimed to an employment tribunal that this was an act of religious discrimination.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) considered Wasteney’s human right to manifest religion but held that this did not give the Claimant an unfettered right to discuss or act on her religious beliefs at work, disregarding the views of colleagues and her employer. The ET also held that the Claimant was aware that she did not have this unrestricted right. The judgment stated that the Claimant’s complaints of direct religious discrimination and harassment were unfounded as religion only was the context and not the reason for the disciplinary action.
The EAT dismissed the appeal as the Respondent had not taken disciplinary action because Wasteney shared her belied with a colleague, but because the acts blurred professional boundaries and resulted in improper pressure on a vulnerable junior colleague. The Respondent had made findings of serious misconduct constituting of misuse of power and seniority, and a written warning was a reasonable sanction.
Wasteney v East London NHS Foundation Trust
What does this mean for me?
- Discrimination law protects individuals from being treated less favourably because of their religion;
- However, this case shows that if someone manifests their religion in an “improper” way, a disciplinary sanction can be appropriate following a fair procedure;
- This sanction will not be an act of religious discrimination.