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Legislation update: Imposing religious views on others at work

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24th Feb 2009
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In recent weeks there has been more than one story in the news regarding employees who express their religious views whilst at work. Richard White examines a recent case, in which an employee was dismissed for imposing his religious views on service users whilst carrying out his duties.

 

 

 

Chondol v Liverpool City Council: The facts

Mr Chondol was a social worker employed by Liverpool City Council ('Liverpool'). He was seconded to the Community Mental Health Team at the Mersey Care NHS Trust ('Mersey'). The main allegations made against Mr Chondol were that:

 

  • He had given a Bible to a service user
  • He had attempted to promote his religious beliefs to a different service user, who complained about Mr Chondol "talking about God and church and [***] like that".

Liverpool believed that Mr Chondol had promoted Christianity to service users despite being told that it was inappropriate for a social worker to do so. Liverpool concluded that he had failed to follow a reasonable management instruction not to overtly promote his religious beliefs to service users. In particular, the concern was that in promoting his religious beliefs to service users, he could cause distress to someone who was already in a fragile mental state. He was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The claim

Mr Chondol claimed that his dismissal was on the ground of his religion, and therefore amounted to unlawful direct religious discrimination.

The decision

The employment tribunal dismissed Mr Chondol's claim of discrimination. The tribunal decided that his dismissal was on the ground that his employer believed that he was improperly imposing his religious views on service users. His dismissal was not therefore on the ground of his religion, as an employee of any religion or belief would have been treated the same way, if they had been improperly imposing their views (religious or otherwise) on service users.

 

"The EAT decided that making a distinction between an employee's religious beliefs, and the inappropriate promotion of those beliefs, was an entirely valid principle"

Mr Chondol appealed to the EAT. The EAT rejected Mr Chondol's appeal, commenting that a drawn-out debate as to who the claimant should be compared to, when deciding on the reason for his treatment, was not always helpful. The key issue to focus on was "the fundamental question of the reason why the claimant was treated in the manner complained of". The EAT decided that making a distinction between an employee's religious beliefs, and the inappropriate promotion of those beliefs, was an entirely valid principle. However, where an employer seeks to rely on this type of distinction, the EAT warned that tribunals should be careful to ensure that they identify the employers true reason for its treatment of the employee.

Comment

The EAT appears to have adopted a common sense approach in this case, looking at how the employer would have treated other employees who were promoting their views to service users, whether those were religious views or other strong personal beliefs. In deciding that other employees of different views or beliefs (religious or personal) would have been treated in exactly the same way, the tribunal was entitled to conclude that there had been no discrimination against Mr Chondol.

It is important for employers to bear in mind that employees should be treated consistently. If Mr Chondol could have identified another employee that had imposed different religious or personal beliefs on to a service user, and that employee had not been dismissed, then the outcome of the case may have been different.

 

Richard White is a specialist employment solicitor at Withy King

Replies (2)

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By Juliet LeFevre
01st Mar 2009 12:36

[***],

There goes my witches coven social event.

God bless you

Ooops did it again!!

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By dwaveatoz
24th Feb 2009 13:04

Recently I joined a US-based small business social network and after several emails from other members endeavouring to indoctrinate me into their religious beliefs, I emailed the site CEO and complained.

While I don't care what other people believe, I visit a business social network to discuss and read about business matters, not religious or other matters.

It seems that Mr Chondol's case is similar except that it was within the workplace. I hope this case will be a precedent to encourage those with a compulsion to "save" others to keep their preaching to themselves and others who request it.

Robin

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