It seems that thorny issue of religious rights in the workplace are never too far away from the courts these days. The recent case of Wasteney v East London NHS Trust is one such example. This case saw an employee mount a legal challenge against her employer alleging that her human rights had been breached.
Victoria Wasteney found herself in the Employment Appeals Tribunal after challenging her employer’s decision to issue a final written warning and suspend her for nine months. This followed a complaint by a junior employee about Ms Wasteney’s unwanted behaviour. The junior employee, a practicing Muslim, claimed that Ms Wasteney was “grooming” her and repeatedly pressured her to convert to Christianity. She alleged that Ms Wasteney gave her a book describing a Muslim woman’s conversion to Christianity, invited her to church services and placed her hands on her during prayer. Ms Wasteney, a born again Christian, raised a discrimination and harassment claim and argued that she should be able to discuss her religion freely with her work colleagues.
When she lost her Employment Tribunal case, the claimant appealed to the EAT. The EAT refused her appeal and upheld the first instance tribunal’s ruling. Ms Wasteney had argued that her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under article nine of the European Convention of Human Rights had been breached. The EAT did not agree and ruled that Ms Wasteney did not have “a complete and unfettered right to discuss or act on her religious beliefs at work”.
It held that Ms Wasteney had taken advantage of her senior position and pushed her beliefs onto the complainer. This was different to simply manifesting her religious beliefs, which is protected under the Equality Act. Ms Wasteney claimed that her behaviour was not proselytising, but was consensual. However, her senior role hindered her claim and the EAT found that it would be difficult for subordinates to refuse invitations and discussions.
Ms Wasteney has said in the media that she is unsure how to discuss religion in the workplace without ending up in an employment tribunal. If you are as unsure as Ms Wasteney, contact your Legal Manager for some clarification.