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European Court rules on religious freedom at work

BY Margaret Anne Soderqvist-Clark
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has this morning handed down its judgement in the cases of four individuals who took their employers to employment tribunals arguing that they were discriminated against due to their Christian beliefs. 

In two of the cases, disciplinary action was taken against employees wearing crosses on their uniform.  In the other two cases, the employees were disciplined for refusing to provide services to same sex couples due to the employees’ religious beliefs. 

In a landmark judgment, one of the three, Ms Nadia Eweida, who was sent home from work for contravening BA’s uniform policy by visibly wearing a cross, has won her case.  By a majority, the Court held that BA’s actions did violate Ms Eweida religious rights. 

The Court however rejected the claims of the other three Claimants.  In particular, the Court declined to find that those who decline to carry out work duties on behalf of same sex couples (as was the position in two of the claims), due to deeply held religious beliefs, were entitled to any protection under human rights law.  All employees are expected to act in accordance with their employer’s equal opportunities policies, regardless of whether or not this conflicts with their conscience.  This aspect of the ruling is likely to provide a degree of comfort to employers, who otherwise would have faced the unpalatable prospect of trying to weigh up competing equality rights between sexual orientation and religion.

LAW will be tackling these thorny issues in our next round of HR Strategy events in February.  For more details of these events click here.

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