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Can a belief in or against Scottish independence amount to a protected philosophical belief?

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It is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010 to discriminate in the workplace because of religion, religious belief, or philosophical belief, or lack of religion or belief. But what exactly is a philosophical belief and can protection extend to belief in or against Scottish independence?

Earlier decisions indicate that whilst support of a political party might not be protected, “belief in a political philosophy or doctrine” could be. It would have to meet the following criteria:

  • The belief must be genuinely held;
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • It must have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • And it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not be incompatible with human dignity or with the fundamental rights of others.

Applying these criteria, it is possible to argue that a belief in, or against, Scottish independence, could be protected under the Equality Act. That would mean that any detriment suffered by an employee as a result of the belief could amount to unlawful discrimination.

This question is due to be heard by an employment tribunal later this month. The tribunal will consider whether the Ministry of Defence discriminated against a former employee because of his belief in Scottish independence. The claimant alleges that he was suspended (and had his political views and social media activity scrutinised) after he announced his intention to run for the deputy leader of the Scottish National Party. Read more here.

My colleague Tony Hadden predicted a challenge of this type in an article published in 2014. It will be interesting to see what the tribunal decides.

Workbox has a dedicated page on religion or belief discrimination with some practical advice and FAQs.

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