The Not Ashamed campaign, launched yesterday with the support of some senior clergy, claims that Christians are facing discrimination at work. The website has stories from “those who have suffered for standing up and speaking up for Jesus Christ in the workplace”.
But when you delve into each of these cases, the stories are more complex.
Maths teacher Olive Jones was not sacked (ignore the headline and read to the end of this article) and the council seemed to act reasonably, given the complaints against her, and asked her to return to work.
Nurse Shirley Chaplin lost her tribunal case against her employer after she refused to remove a crucifix necklace on health and safety grounds. During the hearing it emerged that Sikh and Muslim staff had also been told to remove or modify their religious dress. The tribunal found that the employer had acted in a reasonable manner, even offering to move Mrs Chaplin to an alternative job.
Sheila Matthews, the pediatrician dismissed from Northampton’s adoption panel for refusing to deal with adoption requests from gay couples, lost her case too. She was severely criticised by the judge, who said that her claim had no basis in fact and awarded costs against her.
The number of religious discrimination claims is still relatively small and only 2 percent of them were successful last year. These cases tend to get a lot of publicity, though, not least because the adherents of the particular faith with the grievance make sure that they do. The amount of noise around them is therefore disproportionate. Just because there are a few high-profile claims does not mean that we are seeing a trend towards religious conflict in the workplace.
It does seem, though, that the law against religious discrimination has emboldened those wishing to make an issue out of their religion and scared some employers into over-reacting. As Darren Newman says, ignorance of the law paralyses managers with fear and makes employees “think that they can receive thousands of pounds in compensation for every perceived slight they endure.” It also makes religious groups think they can use the protection of employment law to claim special rights in the workplace.
So far, most claims of religious discrimination are failing. The principle seems to have been established that employees can’t decide they don’t want to do parts of their job, or don’t want to obey dress codes, because it’s against their religion.
On closer examination, the evidence of discrimination against Christians in the workplace, as claimed by the Not Ashamed campaign, doesn’t stack up. The cases quoted show only that there is a small group of people determined to make an issue of their religious belief and ready to use the law against their employers to do so. In most cases they have failed. However, they will probably keep trying and these rare but very noisy cases will continue to cause headaches for employers for some time yet.
Update: I thought I was going to be first up with this but then I found out that Ministry of Truth, uber-swot that he is, has already done it.
Update 2: I missed this piece by Stephen Simpson at XpertHR, who also takes a number of the ‘anti-Christian’ cases apart. He notes:
The key factor in employers successfully defending these cases is that (with the possible exceptions of the cases involving wearing crosses at work, which could have gone either way) they all had a good reason that justified their actions.