Don’t Allow Morals to Cloud Your Judgment when it comes to Dismissing your Employees

In a recent case that went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) it was held that the UK was in breach of Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights by failing to take ‘reasonable and appropriate’ measures to protect employees, including those with less than one year’s service, from dismissal on grounds of political opinion or affiliation.

The claim came about after Mr Redfearn, a minibus driver was dismissed from his employment after he was elected as a BNP councillor.  The ECtHR notes that Article 11 applied not only to associations whose views are favourably regarded or inoffensive but also to those whose views ‘offend, shock or disturb’.

Despite having been nominated for a ‘first-class employee’ award some 12 months before he joined the BNP, Mr Redfearn was summarily dismissed on the grounds of health and safety risks (as the majority of his passengers were Asian).  As Mr Redfearn did not have the sufficient continuous service to bring a claim for unfair dismissal, he claimed that his dismissal constituted less favourable treatment on racial grounds and that since the BNP was a ‘whites only’ party at that time, his dismissal constituted indirect discrimination.

Mr Redfearn’s discrimination claims were rejected as the basis for the dismissal was his membership of the BNP and not his race.  He appealed to the House of Lords and lodged a claim at the ECtHR that his dismissal had disproportionately interfered with his right to freedom of assembly and association under Article 11 and his right to freedom of expression under Article 10.

The ECtHR noted that additional protection from dismissal is extended to those dismissed for certain protected reasons, including race, sex and religion, and considered that a legal system ‘which allows dismissal from employment solely on the basis of the employee’s membership of a political party carries with it the potential for abuse’.  It is also worthy of note that, since Mr Redfearn’s dismissal, the definition of a protected belief under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (now also under the Equality Act 2010) has been amended to include any ‘philosophical belief’.  Following this decision, it may be argued that membership of a political party constitutes a philosophical belief under amended legislation.

For advice on aspects of discrimination and how your actions as an employer may affect your employees’ rights to bring a claim against you, please contact the Employment Team at Forbes Solicitors.

This entry was posted in Employment Law.