However, how far does this protection extend in circumstances where such a belief is incompatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others?
This issue has recently been addressed in the Employment Tribunal (ET) case of Mackereth v The Department for Work and Pensions.
The claimant was a Christian doctor, who was employed to carry out health assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). He brought claims in the ET for discrimination on the grounds of his religious belief. The Claimant maintained that his Christianity and in particular the three sub-sets of his belief, being a belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and a conscientious objection to transgenderism, meant that he could not refer to individuals who were contemplating, undergoing or had undergone gender reassignment by the pronoun of their choice.
The Claimant’s belief was that every person is created by God as either male or female, and a person cannot change their gender/sex at will. The DWP’s policy was to address service users by their pronoun of choice. This is something the Claimant refused to do on grounds of his religious belief.
The ET were required to balance the Claimant’s protected characteristic of religious belief against the rights and freedoms of the service users he was treating. The ET held there was no dispute that Christianity fell squarely within the protection of section 10 of the Equality Act 2010, however the issue was whether the Claimant’s beliefs went so far over and above this religious belief so as not to be protected.
The criteria set out in Grainger v Nicholson formed the basis of the ET’s decision. It was found that the Claimant genuinely held his beliefs and that they related to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life. However, the ET held that irrespective of this, the Claimant’s belief in the three sub-sets of his Christianity were incompatible with human dignity and conflicted with the fundamental rights of others, specifically in this matter, the rights of transgender individuals.
It was held therefore that the Claimant had not been subjected to discrimination on the grounds of his religious belief.
This case is an interesting and difficult balancing act between protected characteristics and the overriding principles of human rights. We understand that the Claimant has sought permission to appeal the decision and it will therefore be interesting to see how the Employment Appeal Tribunal treats the lower tribunal’s decision and reasoning.
It is easy to see how people in the health care and medical profession may have conflicting beliefs in regards to the treatment of their patients. If you are a GP Practice struggling with this issue we are here to help. Our specialist GP Practices and Employment team are available to advise on particular issues or provide training to your health care providers on delicate issues they may encounter. For more information, contact Joan Pettingill, Partner and head of GP Practices on Joan.Pettingill@LuptonFawcett.Law T. 0114 228 3252
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.