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Managing employee’s extreme political view – balancing the risks

BNP Member’s dismissal breached right to freedom of association

In 2006 the Court of Appeal confirmed that Arthur Redfearn, formerly a bus driver with Serco Limited, was not entitled to rely on UK race discrimination legislation after he was dismissed when it became public knowledge he was a member of the BNP and had been elected as a BNP councillor. Mr Redfearn had less that one year’s service with Serco and so unable to pursue a claim for unfair dismissal he had sought to rely on UK race discrimination legislation.

The case was taken to The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which ruled that the UK’s failure to provide adequate legislative protection for him was a breach of his right to freedom of association. The Court concluded that this right must apply not only to people or associations whose views are favourably received, but also to those whose views “offend, shock or disturb”.

Whilst Serco, whom employed Mr Redfearn, had accepted that his membership of the BNP had not affected his conduct at work, it was concerned that once his membership became known it would cause difficulties not only with other employees, trade unions and clients but for the company itself. The ECHR recognised that Serco was in a difficult position but concluded that it was incumbent on the UK to take reasonable and appropriate measures to protect employees with less than one year’s service from dismissal on grounds of political opinion or affiliation, and that UK legislation was deficient in this respect.

If your business is faced with a similar dilemma:

  • In light of this it is important to balance allowing individuals to pursue their own political/religious/philosophical beliefs whilst dealing with the potential impact those beliefs may have on others;
  • It is worth remembering that whilst certain beliefs may be abhorrent to a majority, unless the employee’s conduct at work is affected by those beliefs, any related dismissal will now be interpreted by the UK domestic courts in light of the ECHR authority; and
  • Each case will turn on its facts and it is important to prevent the risk of any discrimination and/or harassment claim by other employees.