Wearing poppies at work

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10 November 2011

In the lead up to Remembrance Day this Sunday, FIFA has brought into the spotlight the question as to whether an employer can prevent an employee wearing a poppy at work.

Whereas a compromise has been reached with the England players being allowed to wear black armbands with printed poppies during the game on Saturday, not all employers are prepared to allow employees to wear poppies at work.  But if an employer enforces a ban on wearing a poppy at work, is the employee able to bring an employment tribunal claim on the basis that wearing a poppy constitutes a philosophical belief protected by the Equality Act?

This topical issue has just recently been decided in the pre-hearing review of the case of Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd.  The employment tribunal decided in this case that an employee's belief that he should wear a poppy as a mark of respect was not protected under the Equality Act as the belief was too narrow to be characterised as a philosophical belief.  The employment tribunal decided that, although a belief that one should wear a poppy to show respect was admirable, it fell short of the principles in the case of Granger v Nicholson in which the EAT made it clear that the belief must:

  • be genuinely held
  • be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Previously, beliefs in climate change and anti-fox hunting have been found to come within the scope of protection.  However, in this case, even though the belief was admirable and sincerely held, this was not in itself enough to meet the conditions and the Claimant's discrimination claims based on a philosophical belief could not proceed.

This decision is, however, only an employment tribunal decision made at a pre-hearing review and is therefore not binding.

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