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Offensive beliefs - are they protected?

This issue can present some real challenges for employers, as such a wide range of beliefs can be ‘protected’ in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010. For a belief to be protected, it must be genuinely held and be more than an opinion or viewpoint. It must also apply to a worthy aspect of human life and have a level of cogency, coherence and seriousness. Crucially, the belief must also be "worthy of respect in a democratic society" and must be compatible with the dignity and fundamental rights of others.

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A belief will not be excluded from protection merely because it offends others or is shocking. Only extreme beliefs which advocate or incite violence or hatred, or the degradation of others' rights would be excluded from protection. However, this does not allow individuals the freedom to harass others who do not share their “philosophical beliefs”. Just because a view is classed as philosophical, it does not mean that individuals cannot be mindful of how they manifest those beliefs.

Employers must tread a careful line between allowing employees to express their beliefs and protecting those who might feel humiliated, offended or degraded. The balancing line falls between discrimination based on belief and potential harassment due to others’ beliefs. For consideration, employers should distinguish between the actual belief and the way in which the belief is expressed. Generally, employers can take action against an employee who expresses their beliefs in an offensive or inappropriate way, however, taking action simply because the beliefs are unpalatable could land the employer in Tribunal trouble.

Call us on 01935 411 191 or email to speak to one of our consultants about this and any other HR related topic. A member of our consultancy team will be available to help you with any HR, Recruitment or Training queries you may have.


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