What counts as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act?

What counts as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act?

In Harron v Dorset Police, the Employment Tribunal is considering whether an employee’s belief “in the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector” is sufficient to amount to a protected characteristic.

The background

The Equality Act 2010 confirms that for behaviour to be discriminatory it must be due to a protected characteristic. Religion or belief can amount to a protected characteristic.

The Claimant, Mr Harron, worked for Dorset police.

He pursued a claim against the police force for indirect discrimination based on a philosophical belief.

He alleged he had suffered a detriment as a result of his “belief in the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector”, and that this amounted to discrimination.

The question the Employment Tribunal had to consider was whether Mr Harron’s belief was sufficient to amount to a protected characteristic and therefore whether he was able to bring a claim for discrimination.

The decision

The Tribunal initially dismissed the claim, but, an appeal is being accepted and the case has been remitted to the Tribunal for reconsideration.

The EAT has provided guidance that hints how the case should be decided.

The EAT highlighted that to satisfy the test a belief must relate to matters that are more than merely trivial and that at least three of five criteria are satisfied.

The criteria are:

  1. The belief must be genuinely held
  2. It must be a belief and not an opinion based on information currently available
  3. It must relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  4. It must have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society

When this case is reconsidered, if Mr Harron’s belief in the proper and efficient use of public funds is found to satisfy this test his claim for discrimination will continue.

You can find full details of the case here.

What this means for you

This case is a reminder that what can be construed as a philosophical belief can be very wide.

In earlier cases, both beliefs in man-made climate change and anti-fox hunting have been held to amount to philosophical beliefs.

Employers need to be mindful of what could amount to a philosophical belief, as often in the first instance such situations don’t appear to concern matters of discrimination.

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