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Is It Unfair to Dismiss an Employee for Promoting Their Religious Beliefs at Work?

on Friday, 24 May 2019.

In Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust [2019] EWCA Civ 818, the Court of Appeal unanimously held that it was fair, in circumstances where the employee is inappropriately proselytising their religious beliefs.

The Facts of the Case

Mrs Kuteh was a Christian nurse who worked for the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust ("the Trust"). She was responsible for assessing patients who were due to undergo surgery. Although she was required to ask about the patient's religion, she often initiated unwanted religious discussion during these assessments.

Complaints were made about Mrs Kuteh's inappropriateness, which led to the matron raising these concerns with her. Mrs Kuteh reassured the matron that she would no longer initiate conversations about religion with patients unless a patient asked her to.  

Despite this, in the following months there were further complaints from patients that she had, preached at patients, handed one of them a Bible, and asked another patient to sing a psalm with her.

Following an investigation and disciplinary hearing, Mrs Kuteh was dismissed for gross misconduct. She brought a claim for unfair dismissal, and argued that her rights to manifest her beliefs under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been interfered with.

The ET and EAT Decisions

Both the employment tribunal and the employment appeal tribunal rejected this claim and concluded that Mrs Kuteh could not rely on Article 9 of the ECHR. This is because her conduct was regarded as improper proselytising and there was no evidence to suggest she was prevented from manifesting her beliefs.

The Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal in its decision noted that Mrs Kuteh had continued to initiate these religious discussions even after management had instructed her not to do so. Furthermore, the Trust had conducted a fair investigation and disciplinary procedure before deciding to dismiss Mrs Kuteh, and as such the dismissal had not been unfair.

The Court also held that interference with rights under Article 9 ECHR can be justified where it is proportionate to meet a legitimate aim. Specifically, in this case, there was a valid distinction that could be drawn between Mrs Kuteh's religious beliefs and her inappropriate proselytising of those beliefs.  

Comment

Whether it is fair to dismiss an employee for inappropriately proselytising their religious beliefs in the workplace will always depend on the particular facts. This will usually involve weighing an employee's right to manifest their beliefs against the manner in which they manifest of those beliefs.

Whilst in this case Mrs Kuteh did not bring a claim for religious discrimination, it is established law that an employee will not succeed in bringing a claim for religious discrimination where a reasonable management instruction has been given to stop proselytising but the employee has continued to do so.


For more information, please contact Ellie Boyd in our Employment Law team on 020 7665 0940.

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