What Counts as a Philosophical Belief in Employment Law?

According to the Equality Act 2010, employees have the right to practice their religion while at work, without fear of being discriminated against. This right also extends to philosophical beliefs, as long as they meet certain criteria.

An Employment Appeal Tribunal decision from 2009 laid the definition of a philosophical belief as one that is:

– Genuinely held
– Relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human behaviour
– Be a belief, rather than an opinion or viewpoint, that is based on available information
– Have a certain level of importance, seriousness, cohesion, and cogency
– Be compatible with human dignity, respect-worthy in a democratic society, and not impinge on other people’s fundamental rights

There are a few common philosophical beliefs that are found in the workplace, such as pacifism, humanism and atheism.

Employers are expected to accommodate those in a similar way to accommodating other religions and to ensure that they do not feel discriminated against.

Discrimination could come in the form of directly treating an employee less favourably – for example passing over an employee for a big project because they chose not to come to a Christmas service.

It could also be indirect, such as having procedures, practices or policies which put someone at a disadvantage because of their religion or lack of it. Discrimination can also come in the form of direct harassment or victimisation, or bullying people because of their beliefs.

Harassment is defined as treating someone differently because of their belief, while victimisation involves treating a person unfairly after they have made a complaint about someone, or supported a complaint that has been made.

Philosophical beliefs may include beliefs about people of a certain religion, age or gender. They are not allowed to discriminate against people because of their philosophical beliefs.

The way that employment law and the Equality Act works mean that people are protected from discrimination regardless of the source. Whether they are, or are not, a part of a belief system or a religion they have the right to fair treatment at all times and they are also required to treat others fairly.

The system is set up in a way that works both ways.

If you are an employer who has been asked to make reasonable accommodations for a religious belief then you should try to do so. Seek legal advice if you are not sure if the request is one you should follow or if you are not sure how best to assist an employee who is asking for accommodation.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as formal legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Specific legal advice should be sort tailored to the individual circumstances in all cases.

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