ET Shuts Down Employee Who Says Wearing a Mask is Linked to Slavery and Against Philosophical Belief

An employee who refused to wear a face mask, claiming they had slavery links, has seen his philosophical belief claim dismissed. Below, we explore what happened and why the Judge stated such comments were “so wide-ranging as to be meaningless”. 

In light of this case, we examine what a philosophical belief is and provide examples from the news. Also, we discuss when an employee could claim compensation if they’ve experienced discrimination associated with such a belief. 

If you’ve faced similar circumstances, read our in-depth guide to learn more. Alternatively, you can contact us today so we can answer your questions and uncover your eligibility to make a claim. Should you have a valid case, our employment law specialists could guide you through the legal process.

So, to begin your journey with us now, simply:

Face Masks, Slavery and Philosophical Belief

In March 2020, lockdown restrictions were imposed by the Government due to the rapid spread of Covid-19. Subsequently, the claimant’s office was closed for an extended period, followed by a phased return, with measures only reverting to normal in February 2022.

During Covid restrictions, the claimant’s employer informed all employees about new rules concerning face masks. They explained these would become mandatory for those not medically exempt when moving around the office. Shortly after, the employer required a doctor’s note from those claiming medical exemption as proof.

As a result, the claimant raised objections, stating that face coverings were “medically useless”. In any event, he claimed he was legally exempt from wearing them due to suffering panic attacks if he did. Therefore, he said his employer had subjected him to disability discrimination by forcing him to wear one.

Yet, the tribunal learned that no medical records existed to support this claim. The claimant visited his GP in 1990 concerning panic attacks, but this stopped in 1995. Then, in 2004, he was prescribed anxiety medication, but evidence of this ceased in 2013.

Therefore, the judge held no evidence existed to suggest the claimant currently suffered panic attacks, which would make him medically exempt from wearing face masks. As such, they ruled he had no disability for his employer to discriminate against, dismissing this claim.

However, this wasn’t the end, as during proceedings, the claimant provided historical photographs of slaves wearing masks. He reasoned that masks were related to slavery, making them against his beliefs. Therefore, being made to wear one would go against this and be philosophical belief discrimination.

Again, the Judge dismissed this claim, believing the photographs provided zero relevance in the case and were part of a “wide-ranging” claim. As a result, the claimant was unsuccessful in their case.

What Constitutes a Philosophical Belief?

Following the failure of the above claim, an employee may want to know what qualifies as a philosophical belief. ACAS has produced guidance to address the key points concerning this matter in the workplace. They explain that, generally, for someone to hold such a belief, it must be:

  • Genuinely held
  • More than just a present opinion
  • Based on a weighty and substantial aspect of human life
  • Clear, logical, important, convincing and serious
  • worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others

Furthermore, ACAS provide examples of what may or may not be classed as a qualifying belief. They explain that, for example, atheism would be a ‘belief’, but supporting a football team wouldn’t.

Cases in the News

To help understand what a philosophical belief includes, here are some real-world examples that we’ve previously covered below:

  • Mr E McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd and others – In this case, the claimant argued his support for Glasgow Rangers Football Club amounted to a protected belief. However, the tribunal rejected this, stating his support amounted to a lifestyle choice, not a substantial aspect of human life.
  • Sean Corby v ACAS – Here, the claimant argued his criticisms about critical race theory were a protected belief. This time, the tribunal agreed, outlining that Mr Corby had carefully considered his belief and satisfied the qualifying criteria.

When Could an Employee Claim Philosophical Belief Compensation?

An employee may be able to claim compensation if they have experienced philosophical belief discrimination. The legislation that governs such discrimination and protects against it is the Equality Act 2010.

This legislation outlines that discrimination can occur when someone is treated less favourably because of a ‘protected characteristic’, which includes a philosophical belief. The less favourable treatment could consist of discrimination, harassment or victimisation. Furthermore, although less favourable treatment isn’t defined, one example includes excluding someone from promotion opportunities.

If this occurs, an employee may first want to raise the matter informally, as this is usually quicker and less stressful. However, if this isn’t possible or produces an unsatisfactory outcome, the employee may want to raise a formal grievance.

Once a formal grievance has been raised, the employer must deal with the matter fairly and comply with ACAS procedures. Yet, if the issue remains unresolved after taking such measures, an employee may consider taking their claim to an employment tribunal. Here, the employee must, among other things, adhere to specific time limits and ensure the employer didn’t have a justified reason for the unfavourable treatment. 

If you have experienced philosophical belief discrimination at work and want to claim compensation, contact Redmans Solicitors today. We are specialists in all areas of employment law and can assess your eligibility to proceed with a claim. You can get in touch with us now by: