The Equality Act is designed to protect employees from, amongst other things, HR on the grounds of religion or belief.
The meaning of “belief” has been interpreted widely and has been held to include convictions such as an anti-foxhunting stance as well as a belief in the “higher purpose of public service broadcasting”. However, an Employment Tribunal has found that protection against HR does not extend to the belief that people should pay their respects to the war dead by wearing a poppy between All Souls’ Day and Remembrance Sunday.
The Claimant was an ex-serviceman who ardently supported the wearing of a poppy, claiming that it was “necessary to show respect to those who gave their lives”. He likened his belief to a period of mourning, and asserted that he treated it as solemnly as he treated observance of the Christian period of Lent. The Claimant was prevented from wearing the poppy at work by his employer.
According to the legislation, for a philosophical belief to be protected, it must:
- be genuinely held;
- not be an opinion or viewpoint;
- relate to 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, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
In this case, the judge held that, while the belief in wearing a poppy is admirable, it was too narrow to be protected and lacked “cogency, cohesion and importance”.
This case represents a narrowing of judicial interpretation of what constitutes a “belief” for the purposes of HR legislation. However, LAW would caution employers to be reasonable when considering whether to prevent employees from wearing poppies in the future as this decision was made in the Employment Tribunal and is therefore not binding.