• Home
  • Resources
  • Refusal to wear a Covid mask was not a philosophical belief

Refusal to wear a Covid mask was not a philosophical belief

Covid unpaid leave
Peninsula Logo

Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(Last updated )

The case of Mr P Burch v British Airways plc is a good example of how an Employment Tribunal (ET) will consider whether the philosophical belief test is met or not.

 The claimant, a pilot, was furloughed during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a significant downturn in operations. He was due to operate his first flight on 10 February 2022 to Miami as a training trip. On 9 February 2022 his training captain emailed to remind him that he would be required to wear a Covid mask in line with the respondent’s policy. The claimant had a major stress reaction and was consequently unable to fly. Later in February, when he did report for work, he did so without wearing a Covid mask and stated that he was exempt from doing so. The training captain did not accept this, and the claimant was stood down and placed on unpaid leave.

The claimant believes that as a ‘sovereign being’ he has a right to breathe freely and should not be subjected to what he considers to be arbitrary and pointless rules which have prevented him from doing so.

Claims of unlawful direct and indirect discrimination, and harassment were brought, and he sought to rely upon the protected characteristic of philosophical belief.

The ET first had to consider whether the reason why he refused to wear a Covid mask amounted to a philosophical belief. The ‘Grainger test’ had to therefore be considered by the ET, so called because of the case where these principles come from. The criteria for a philosophical belief are that the belief must be genuinely held; it must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint; it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and finally, it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Whilst they found that the claimant’s views were genuinely held, the ET established that it was a concept which did not affect how the claimant lived his life or perceived the world, except in a very narrow way. His dedication consisted of persistently not wearing a mask. No other facet of his life was involved. The claimant himself appeared to recognise that not wearing a mask could cause a problem to those who were vulnerable. The ET found that his belief was therefore in conflict with the fundamental rights of others so did not amount to a philosophical belief.

This case is a useful reminder that when a discrimination claim is brought, the first step for the ET to decide, usually at a preliminary hearing, is whether the definition of that protected characteristic is met. In this case, it was not, so the discrimination claims failed so will not progress any further.

  • Home
  • Resources
  • Refusal to wear a Covid mask was not a philosophical belief

Related articles

  • Global survey results


    UK Lagging in Mental Health Conversations: A Wake-Up Call for Employers

    The UK is diverging from this global trend, with a 4% decrease in employees speaking out about mental health issues.

    Peninsula Team Peninsula Team
    • Business Advice
  • hmrc legal fees settled


    Emile Heskey settles £195k HMRC legal fees

    A long-running tax case worth £1.63m with the former Liverpool and England footballer has concluded with HMRC set to receive £194,794.42 in legal fees

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Dispute Resolution
  • paternity leave act passed


    Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Act 2024 passed before Parliament went into recess

    The sudden announcement of a general election to be held on 4 July left only a few days before Parliament closed down and gave the Government the problem of which items of legislation to quickly push through the adoption process.

    Peninsula TeamPeninsula Team
    • Employment Contract
Back to resource hub

Try Brainbox for free today

When AI meets 40 years of Peninsula expertise... you get instant, expert answers to your HR and Health & Safety questions

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the latest news & tips that matter most to your business in our monthly newsletter.