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EAT Decision On Unfair Dismissal and Belief Discrimination

on Friday, 05 August 2022.

The requirement to remain politically neutral does not fall within special protections relating to political opinions or affiliation in the Employment Rights Act and political beliefs can be protected under the Equality Act.

In the case of Scottish Federation of Housing Associations v Jones, Mrs Jones was employed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) as the Head of Membership and Policy between April 2019 and November 2019. There was a clause in Mrs Jones' terms of employment which prevented her from having a 'formal role' of a political nature. In October 2019, Mrs Jones sought SFHA's permission to stand for Scottish Labour. SFHA refused, on the basis that Mrs Jones needed to remain politically neutral in her role. Mrs Jones withdrew her candidature. Mrs Jones was then dismissed the following month.

Unfair Dismissal

Mrs Jones brought a claim for unfair dismissal. The ERA provides that an employee is not required to have two years continuous service with an employer in order to bring a claim for unfair dismissal if the reason or the principal reason for the dismissal is, or relates to, their political opinions or affiliation. The Employment Tribunal (ET) held, at a preliminary hearing, that the dismissal fell within this exception, on the basis that Mrs Jones would not have sought to stand as a candidate but for her political opinions and affiliation with Scottish Labour. Mrs Jones was therefore entitled to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. SFHA appealed.

The appeal was successful. The EAT found that Mrs Jones was dismissed because she was not willing to keep politically neutral. This was the principal reason for her dismissal and did not relate to her specific political opinion of affiliation, therefore the extended protection from unfair dismissal in the ERA was not available to Mrs Jones.

Belief Discrimination

Mrs Jones also brought a claim for discrimination based on a belief which she says is a protected belief under the EA. Mrs Jones articulated her belief as "those with the relevant skills, ability and passion should participate in the democratic process". In order for the belief to be afforded protection under the EA, it must:

  • be honestly held
  • be a belief as distinct from an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society

The ET held that the belief was a protected belief. SFHA appealed. The EAT agreed with the ET's decision and dismissed the second ground of appeal. Mrs Jones' discrimination claim has therefore been remitted for a full hearing.

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What Can Employers Learn from This Case?

If the principal reason for an employee's dismissal relates to their political opinions or affiliation they will not need two years' continuous service to bring an unfair dismissal claim. However, it seems that dismissal for breaching a general requirement to remain politically neutral may not be enough to trigger protection. As with all cases for unfair dismissal, the specific facts of a particular situation will be important. 

Employers should be aware that political beliefs can qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010.

For more information, please contact Ellen Netto in our Employment Law team on 07384 812798, or complete the form below.

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