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Belief in the importance of not lying could be protected under the Equality Act

Religion or belief is one of the nine “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act 2010. The recent Employment Tribunal cases of Hawkins v Universal Utilities Ltd t/a Unicorn featured a call centre employee who claimed that his Christian beliefs were incompatible with his employer’s instruction to lie to customers.

Unicorn employed Mr Hawkins as a telesales agent on 22 February 2012. Its recruitment process involved taking on around six staff per week, but retaining only one or two based on their ability to meet targets.

Mr Hawkins’ first day at Unicorn was his induction. In his notes of the session, he wrote down that it was usual to “be creative” when speaking to secretaries and PAs. He also noted that the trainer advised “us to lie”.

Mr Hawkins did not meet his targets, and was dismissed on 24 February 2012. He raised a claim of religion or belief discrimination on the basis that he was told to lie to potential customers, contrary to his Christian beliefs.

The ET held that a belief that an individual should not tell an lies under any circumstances can be a philosophical belief protected by the Equality Act 2010. It noted that such a belief is genuinely held, related to weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour, has a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and is worthy of respect in a democratic society.

The ET dismissed Mr Hawkins’ claim, however, as he had not shown that he was placed at a particular disadvantage because of his belief. It also made clear that he had provided no evidence that lying was a requirement in Unicorn’s workplace.

Although only an ET judgment, this case is an interesting example of religion or belief discrimination. Although this protected characteristic may not be as high-profile as, say, disability, employers should still keep it in mind.

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