The Equality Act states that workers cannot be discriminated against because they hold a particular “philosophical belief”. In Harron v Dorset Police, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that although a belief must relate to matters which are more than merely “trivial”, equally tribunals must not set the threshold requirements at too high a level.
Mr Harron, who started working for Dorset police in 2008, claimed disability discrimination on the basis that he had suffered from bipolar disease, OCD and stress since 2001 or thereabouts.
He also claimed that he had a profound “belief in the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector”. Because he felt compelled to express these views, he said that he had suffered discrimination on the ground of his philosophical belief.
The tribunal held that Mr Harron could not be said to be disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act before 28 May 2013 as there was no “cogent evidence” before that date of a “substantial adverse effect upon his normal day-to-day activities” as a result of his conditions.
With regard to his claim that he had suffered discrimination on the ground of his philosophical belief, the tribunal held that his belief did not meet points two, three and four of the following five criteria set out in Grainger plc and ors v Nicholson:
1. The belief must be genuinely held
2. It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
4. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
In particular, it held that “belief” referred to in point two was equivalent to “a set of values which manifest themselves as an objective or goal principally operating in the work place. …”.
Mr Harron appealed on the basis that the word “philosophical” in the statute was an unnecessary fetter on the scope of a “belief” in the light of European authority and that the judge had adopted too high a threshold when applying the Grainger criteria, among other points.
The EAT allowed the appeal. Whilst agreeing with the tribunal judge that it was right to exclude a belief that operated only in the workplace, he had set the bar too high when applying the criteria in Grainger. Although a belief must relate to matters which are more than merely “trivial”, equally tribunals must not set the threshold requirements at too high a level.
The proper approach when deciding whether or not there was a qualifying belief was not just to apply the criteria in Grainger, but also to have regard to the principles identified by the House of Lords in R (Williamson) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The EAT confirmed that, where the tribunal makes any decision as to whether any of these criteria or principles are or are not met, it must provide specific and detailed reasons for its findings in its judgment.
The EAT therefore remitted the case to the same judge to consider again whether the belief qualified for protection.
The emphasis of the case is not that that a belief in "the proper and efficient use of money in the public sector" is a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 but rather establishes the approach which tribunals should take when deciding on such matters.