Religious or philosophical belief

"Religious or philosophical belief" is one of the nine characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010 and is arguably one of the least well defined. This uncertainty has led to manyinteresting legal challenges by employees seeking to argue that their beliefs should be protected.

In recent years, tribunals have held that beliefs in climate change, Rastafarianism and anti-hunting should be protected by the Act. Protection has also been applied to the belief that mediums can communicate with the dead and in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting.

However, beliefs in wearing a poppy in November, Marxism and 9/11 conspiracy theories did not amount to "philosophical beliefs" capable of protection under the Act.

Limitations on "philosophical belief"

So what makes a belief worthy of protection? Tribunals have previously set out the following limitations on "philosophical belief":

  • The belief must be genuinely held;
  • It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on information currently available;
  • It must be a belief as to a weight and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

A belief in the proper and efficient use of public money

The boundaries of "philosophical belief" have again been tested in the case of Harron v Dorset Police. Mr Harron was a police officer who held a "profound belief in the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector." He initially failed to persuade the tribunal that this belief should be protected under the Equality Act but on appeal, he successfully argued that the threshold applied by the tribunal had been too high.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that a belief in "the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector" could be protected under the Act and the decision has been sent back for reconsideration. We will update you once this decision has been published.

How can we help?

This area of discrimination law can be difficult to navigate as the boundaries of "philosophical belief" continue to be tested. Please get in touch with your usual Brodies' contact for guidance on when a belief is likely to be protected and your obligations under the Equality Act more generally.


Julie Keir

Practice Development Lawyer