Whether it has been social care, Brexit, a lack of figures in manifestos or perhaps too many figures for some politicians to handle, it is clear that the 2017 General Election will be remembered for just how divisive it has become.
One only has to look at recent social media posts to appreciate what started off as an unexpected snap election, in fact had the potential to snap friendships with WhatsApp groups and Facebook updates conveying a spectrum of political allegiances. Whether it is brand ‘May’ or the ‘Corbyn’ factor, many believe the political climate in this country has gone either too far right or too far left. This raises an important question as to what happens in the event of your employer disagreeing with your political views and either mistreating or firing you as a result.
“Whether it is brand ‘May’ or the ‘Corbyn’ factor, many believe the political climate in this country has gone either too far right or too far left.”
If you are an employee, you can benefit from protection of The Equality Act 2010 (“the 2010 Act”), which sets out that direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation of an employee because of a protected characteristic (namely, religious or philosophical belief, sex, age, race, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sex and sexual orientation) is unlawful.
Frustratingly, the 2010 Act stopped short of listing ‘political affiliations or beliefs’ as a protected characteristic. Nevertheless, the 2010 Act makes it clear that a ‘religious or philosophical belief’ is worthy of protection. Therefore, one may be protected from discrimination, harassment, victimisation or being fired by an employer if a Court found that it was because of a ‘philosophical belief’ the employee held. It is not always clear what constitutes a ‘philosophical belief’, but it is suggested that Socialism, Marxism or Free-Market Capitalism could fall within the definition. With smaller parties gaining more exposure including the Greens, UKIP, BNP, The Women’s Equality Party and in some places even the Monster Raving Loony Party, it is unclear whether supporters of these parties would be protected by the law under the definition of a ‘philosophical belief’. In order to come within the definition, you will need to show that your ‘philosophical belief’ meets the following criteria:
1. The belief is genuinely held
2. It is a belief and not just an opinion or view on something
3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
4. The belief is a serious, cohesive belief rather than being made up on the spot to suit the employee
5. The belief must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and doesn’t conflict with anyone’s fundamental rights
In summary, before providing you with protection, the Courts will look at whether you have a political belief that can fall within the conditions of being a ‘philosophical belief’ and assess among other things whether that belief “is worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
In the past, Courts have decided that a belief in climate change by an employee at the BBC or a Labour Party supporter with a strong belief in democratic socialism was capable of being protected. On the other hand, support for the BNP is unlikely to be afforded the same protection.
Politics changes at a vast pace and the law sometimes lags behind. Some may argue that it is time for political affiliation or belief to be a standalone protection within the law rather than attempting to squeeze it within the meaning of a “philosophical belief”. Perhaps this may be one reform that all the parties can agree if nothing else!