16 March 2021
Law at Work - 2021 – 3 of 6 Insights
There has always been a tension between what people are expected to leave at home, in terms of their private views and persuasions, and which parts of themselves they are encouraged to bring to work in order to better perform their duties. In certain jobs a person's 'best judgment' is precisely the quality that has been recruited. For example, this is true of a judge or magistrate. But that does not mean that the person has free reign to bring their own views to bear on a situation.
In Page v Chancellor and others, the Court of Appeal confirmed that Mr Page, a lay magistrate who made decisions about adoptions, was not victimised for his Christian beliefs when he was dismissed after expressing his views that same sex adoption was not in a child's best interests. Not only had he expressed these views to a colleague, he had expressed them publicly on Breakfast TV.
The reason why he was dismissed was not that he spoke out about his Christian beliefs, but because his conduct brought the magistracy into disrepute. In particular, insisting that he could not condone same sex adoption meant that he could not be trusted to act impartially and in accordance with the law (the Equality Act 2010). He was well aware that a magistrate has a duty to act impartially and to observe the law. He also breached guidelines which required him not to speak to the press without clearing this with the press office first.
Interestingly the Court of Appeal reached its conclusion without even having to consider the employer's submissions (meaning it was a pretty clear-cut case of non-discrimination). However, it noted that Mr Page had no insight into why his conduct was not compatible with his role. His argument, bearing in mind he had a duty to act in the best interests of the child (true), was that he would not be acting in the best interests of the child if he left his Christian beliefs at the door. Those beliefs were tied up with his own sense of best judgement.
This case has echoes of Ladele, the registrar who was dismissed for refusing to perform same-sex civil partnerships. Her stance – that she could be exempt from this relatively small part of her duties – was not compatible with the ethos of her employer, to offer a non-discriminatory service to the public.
At a time when many employers are allying themselves with movements which encourage people to speak out against inequality, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, they should also brace themselves for the consequences of encouraging people to speak out. One person's version of speaking out appropriately is another person's version of speaking out inappropriately. If employers are to encourage the expression of values and ideology in the workplace, essentially making it part of their brand, they also have to be prepared to deal with possible conflict and fallout when belief systems clash.
What does this mean for employers?
by multiple authors