Following the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Redfearn v United Kingdom (weekly LELR 305), the government has tabled an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill disapplying the two year qualifying period for unfair dismissal if the dismissal was on the grounds of political opinion or affiliation.
Mr Redfearn was a bus driver who was dismissed after he became a BNP councillor. He could not bring a claim for unfair dismissal because he did not have the requisite qualifying service and instead had to bring a claim under the Race Relations Act (now the Equality Act).
When he lost his case in the domestic courts, he lodged a claim at the European Court against the government on the basis that UK laws failed to protect him from dismissal and this interfered with his right to freedom of expression (article 10) and freedom of assembly and association (article 11) under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The court said that, whatever anyone thought about the BNP and its policies “the fact remains that Article 11 is applicable not only to persons or associations whose views are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also those whose views offend, shock or disturb ...”
It said that the most appropriate remedy for someone dismissed because of their political beliefs or affiliation in the UK was a claim for unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996.
The government amendment simply states that the qualifying period “does not apply if the reason (or, if more than one, the principal reason) for the dismissal is, or relates to, the employee’s political opinions or affiliation.” It is not clear what might constitute a political opinion or affiliation.
The government has said that once the bill has gone through the necessary Parliamentary stages, this additional protection will come into effect two months after Royal Assent and would apply to dismissals after that date.
To read the amendments to the bill, visit the Parliamentary website