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Can you discriminate against someone because they believe in a particular political party?

Until recently we were fairly clear that outside of Northern Ireland, there was no basis for claiming discrimination on the grounds of political belief.

UK Tribunal case law, along with a previous statement made by the Government Equalities Office, suggested that support for a political party alone is unlikely to amount to a “religion or belief” which would qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010.

There is no specific protection for discrimination against an individual due to their political beliefs or affiliation separate to protection provided for “religion or belief” discrimination.

EAT guidance provided in 2010 suggested, however, that a philosophical belief linked to political beliefs e.g. a belief in capitalism might be covered. In that case, a belief in climate change qualified as a “religion or belief” (Grainger plc & Others v Nicholson [2010]).

Some examples involving political beliefs include:

  1. in 2008 an employment tribunal held that a belief in Marxism/Trotskyism was not a “religion or belief” because one of its objectives involved the creation of a legally binding structure by power of government regulating others and because they said it was not worthy of respect in a democratic society; and
  2. members of the British National Party were refused protection of the Race Relations Act 1976 in 2005 because a Tribunal concluded that their beliefs were not worthy of respect in a democratic society.

The position may be about to change. A driver who was dismissed because he became a BNP Councillor has taken his case to the European Court of Human Rights (Readfearn v UK [2012]).

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that UK law is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights because it does not extend specific protection to employees dismissed on the grounds of their political beliefs or affiliation.

It remains to be seen whether (and/or how quickly) this will lead to a change in the law.

Should the law really require employers not to discriminate against political beliefs even if they are extreme and/or offensive?

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