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The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has found that disciplinary action taken against a senior manager for imposing her Christian beliefs on a junior worker of Muslim father was not discriminatory.
In Wasteney v East London NHS Foundation Trust (Wasteney), Ms Wasteney was a born-again Christian employed by the Trust as Head of Forensic Occupational Therapy. She had been the subject of complaints made by a Muslim Occupational Therapist who felt that Ms Wasteney was 'grooming' her. This included unwanted attention such as praying with her and the laying on of hands, giving a book to her concerning the conversion to Christianity of a Muslim woman and inviting her to various services and events at Ms Wasteney's church.
After an investigation under its disciplinary procedure, the respondent concluded that the claimant was guilty of serious misconduct by blurring professional boundaries and subjecting a more junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted attention. Md Wasteney was given a formal warning and made claims of unlawful religious discrimination and harassment.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) rejected the claims and this was upheld by the EAT. It was noted by the EAT that Ms Wasteney had not been subjected to a disciplinary procedure because she had merely manifested her religious beliefs in voluntary consensual exchanges with a colleague, which would have been unlawful discrimination. Ms Wasteney was disciplined for improperly promoting her religious beliefs in a way that was not consensual, taking advantage of someone in a more junior position, which was not unlawful discrimination on the grounds of religious belief.
Ms Wasteney's right to manifest her religion under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights did not assist her in this case as it did not give Ms Wasteney 'a complete and unfettered right to discuss or act on her religious beliefs at work irrespective of the views of others or her employer'. Best practice
It is important that employers are clear about the behaviour that is expected from employees and it is recommended that employers have a code of conduct in place which is made available to all staff. This helps to demonstrate the sort of conduct that is considered inappropriate and crosses professional boundaries. In some cases, training on equality and diversity and how to appropriately discuss religious matters with colleagues maybe appropriate.
When faced with complaints that an employee is inappropriately manifesting religious beliefs, it is important that employers follow a fair procedure including conducting a full and reasonable investigation of the matter before deciding whether any disciplinary action is appropriate.