BNP members could cause headaches for employers

The media have been voyeuristically poring over the leaked BNP membership lists, trying to find something or someone interesting enough to write about. Even the Financial Times, where the letters BNP usually refer to a French bank, has this handy little tool to help you find out how many far-rightists there are in your area.

All this talk of mass sackings of BNP members is, of course, complete nonsense. As Mishcon de Reya’s Beth Leng says, the change in the definition of discrimination on the grounds of belief in the Equality Act 2006 will probably protect BNP members in most jobs from dismissal:

In April 2007, the definition of ‘religion’ or ‘belief’ changed. The law previously said ‘any religious belief or similar philosophical belief’; ‘or similar’ has now been removed. At the time, there was no intention to widen the ambit of the regulation. However, it’s as yet untested. I’m sure that far right groups like the BNP will test the law to see if the tribunal will have any sympathy to extend the definition.

The wording of the law seems to imply that all belief is now protected in the same way that religious belief has been for the past five years. She continues:

If you’ve got someone who has been actively voicing discriminatory values and beliefs in the workplace, they will be in breach of your policies. If you’re relying on a breach of those policies, provided you dismiss the employee reasonably, you’ll be as safe as you can be.

If you automatically dismiss everyone who is a member of the BNP, you’re going to face a significant risk.

For now, at least, employers can only dismiss people for what they do, not for what they think. If someone has been a BNP member and kept quiet about it at work, any dismissal would probably be unfair.

My knowledge of data protection laws is hazy but surely for employers to take disciplinary action on the basis of illegally obtained and unverified data would also be very unwise. At the moment, all we know is that someone has posted a list of people on the web, claiming that they are BNP members. In all likelihood, most of them are but there have been suggestions that some people’s names were added to the list after it was published online.

What a great way to nobble workplace rivals. Set up your own blog with the BNP membership database on it then just add the names of people you don’t like. An unlikley scenario, perhaps, but employers should nevertheless be wary of taking the list at face value. (Note to self: Find the list and check you’re not on it.)

But, even without dismissals, there could still be some interesting legal cases coming out of this. What if other employees decide they don’t want to work with BNP members? Could black, Muslim or gay workers decide that the presence of a BNP member creates an intimidating racist, Islamophobic or homophobic environment? If these employees raised grievances the employer could be left between a rock and a hard place. Dismissing the BNP member would run the risk of an unfair dismissal claim on the grounds of illegal discrimination. Doing nothing could lead to claims of harassment from other workers.

There are parallels here with the Lilian Ladele case. Islington council’s dismissal of Ms Ladele was ruled illegal by an employment tribunal. However, had the council not sacked her, they would have faced grievances and possible legal action from gay employees on the grounds that they allowed a homophobic environment to persist. Those employing BNP members could find themselves in a similar no win situation.

BNP leader Nick Griffin has claimed that “one of the country’s top employment law firms” has offered his members free legal representation. As he doesn’t mention the firm, this is most likely just an attempt to boost his members’ morale. Any law firm giving free advice to the BNP would probably lose much of its public sector work as a result.

But it’s not just the BNP that will need legal advice. Organisations employing BNP members, especially where they are working alongside people from minority groups, could find themselves with some tough employee relations issues.

The government’s recent equality legislation has created a set of irreconcilable workplace rights. Handling any conflict between BNP members in a way that avoids legal or industrial action will require a high degree of skill and patience. Managers facing these dilemmas will need all the help they can get.

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7 Responses to BNP members could cause headaches for employers

  1. I would definitely find knowing that I was working with BNP members unpleasant, and having a boss who was a BNP member would definitely create an intimidating racist environment.

    You can also presume that any BNP member who was involved in recruitment, performance or performance assessment would be biased by their beliefs. It is not just any political belief, BNP members are committed to promoting racial discrimination: it is the raison d’etre of the party.

    Similar objections apply to their occupying any jobs that involve applying judgement impartially: judges, police officers, immigration officers, tax inspectors ……..

    The good thing is that there are not very many of them. The FT chart shows that even in the area where they are strongest, they are barely above 5 members for every 10,000 people.

  2. Jo says:

    Well we may have to live a little!

  3. Rick says:

    Graeme – you could make the same arguments about members of any political group or, indeed, about strongly religious people.

    Would a devout Christian or Muslim be prejudiced against gay people? Would a member of Sinn Fein be biased against protestants?

    Would a hardline left-winger be impartial towards someone with a posh accent?

    Many people with no political or religious affiliation are prejudiced.

    If you can prove that people have acted on their prejudices, that can be grounds for disciplinary action. Otherwise, you have no justification for taking action against them.

  4. tbrrob says:

    Good post — but Graeme can’t complain about working with a BNP member if they do their job professionally.

    I’m a Libertarian and I don’t get to complain to my employer that he allows a socialist/Stalinist environment to persist — considering the amount of armchair socialists I have to work with.

    You can’t have one rule for one group and others for another. So long as someone keeps within the guidelines of their employment contract — their political views should have no affect.

  5. jameshigham says:

    Employers are going to have their work cut out on this one.

  6. Rick, there is an enormous difference between the attitude BNP members have towards non-whites, and what devout Christians have towards gays.

    It is an intrinsic part of the BNP’s aims to favour whites in matter of employment and government services. We all know what they mean by “ending positive discrimination” (which as fr as I know, is already illegal in Britain).

    It is not intrinsic to Christianity to discriminate against gays in such matters. In fact, as a fairly traditionalist, Christian I believe that we are forbidden to do so: “judge not lest you yourself be judged”.

    A lot of people I know think things I do are wrong: for example the Muslims think eating pork is wrong. However, is it likely that one would, for example, not give me a job because I eat pork?

    A better analogy would be is someone belonged to a campaign group whose purpose was to re-criminalise homosexual sex, and to encourage discrimination against gays in employment. I am sure something like that must exist some where. Then I would say they should not be placed in jobs that involved recruitment or management.

    In most of the cases you mention you have insufficient evidence to conclude that people are biased. I am merely saying that, because of the BNP’s ideology and policies, mere membership is proof of racism.

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