Political Debate at Work: Can an Employer Legally Dismiss Me for Expressing Political Opinion in the Workplace?

With election day scheduled to take place on the 4 July 2024, it is expected that many people are going to have some strong views on political issues. Some may even decide to express their views to support their favoured party in their workplace. Or there may be a healthy political debate at work amongst members of staff that could escalate if there are differing opinions.

But could an employee be dismissed because of their political opinion? Alex Hodson, senior associate at Redmans Solicitors explores the topic as the elections approach.

If you are discriminated against at work because of your religious belief or philosophical belief then you may have certain claims against your employer and/or the person who discriminated against you. If you would like to speak to a specialist employment solicitor regarding your situation then please feel free to

Political Debate at Work: Can I Get Fired for my Political Opinion?

Potentially, no. An employee is protected under the Employment Rights Act 1996 from being unfairly dismissed for expressing a political opinion or political affiliation, and potentially, under the Equality Act 2010.

However, an employment tribunal would examine the exact reasons why an employee is dismissed and the full context of how the decision to dismiss was reached.

What Does the Law Say?

Firstly, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) provides everyone with a right to hold their own opinion and to express them freely. However, there are exceptions to this, specifically a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights.

Everyone also has the right to freedom of association (i.e. association with a political party) under Article 11 of the ECHR. However, again, there may be exceptions if an employee works for the public sector. There is no right not to be offended, but there must be a balance in the workplace where healthy debates on current events can be encouraged. It is understood that opinions must not be expressed in an objectionable way.

An employer must also manage political debate at work by training and/or policies being clear on this.  If a claim is pursued in the employment tribunal, the Judge will consider the tone and words used, the role and seniority of the person who is expressing their beliefs or opinions, and the full context of the discussion. Ultimately, the discussions must be respectful.

Unfair Dismissal Due to Political Opinion or Association

Prior to 2013, UK legislation did not protect individuals from being dismissed if they were associated with a political party or engaged in a political debate at work. The claimant in the case of Redfearn v the United Kingdom [2012] ECHR, took his case to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) after being unsuccessful in his claims in the UK courts.

The claimant, in this case, asserted that he had been dismissed from his post, which he held for less than one year after he became a councillor for the British National Party (BNP) and his employer was concerned for his health and safety as a bus driver. The ECHR made a finding that UK legislation prohibited Article 11 of the ECHR, and the UK must amend legislation to protect individuals from being unfairly dismissed on the grounds of political opinion or affiliation.

This is where the Employment Rights Act 1996 was amended to state that if an employee is dismissed because of, or reasons related to, their affiliations or opinions expressed in a political debate at work, then they had been unfairly dismissed.

An employee does not require two years’ service to pursue this claim (as is the case for ordinary unfair dismissal) and an employee has this protection from day one of their employment. However, a claim of this kind is not as straightforward as it sounds.

An employee would have to show that the reason for the dismissal was because of, or related to, the employee’s political debate at work or affiliations, and not for some other reason that could make the dismissal fair (i.e. conduct).

A Single Political Debate at Work Will Not Get You Fired, But Context Matters

In the case of Scottish Federation of Housing Association v Jones [2022], the claimant brought a claim on the basis that she had been dismissed because she expressed a desire to be a political candidate in an upcoming election for the Scottish Labour Party. The claimant was in a senior position in the local authority, and her contract of employment expressed that due to her role and position, she was expected to be politically neutral.

The clause did not prevent her from belonging to a political party, but it did prevent her from having a “formal role” of a political nature. After seeking permission from her employer, and her employer’s refusal to allow her to take up the formal post, she withdrew her candidacy for the Scottish Labour Party. Approximately six months later, the claimant was dismissed.

The employment appeal tribunal found that the real reason for her dismissal was because she was unwilling to be politically neutral as her contract of employment asks, and not because of her specific affiliation with the Scottish Labour Party. The employment appeal tribunal did not accept that a requirement to be politically neutral was protected under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Therefore, the claimant’s claim failed in this instance.

This demonstrates that the employment tribunal will look at the full context of the dismissal and examine the real reason behind why a person has been dismissed. If the evidence is clear that an employee has been dismissed for being affiliated or expressing an opinion on a political party, or reasons connected to it, then this will certainly succeed.

However, there is little case law on this type of claim being successful, which does indicate the difficulties in pursuing and succeeding in this claim.

What Does the Equality Act 2010 Say About Political Debates at Work?

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being treated less favourably or harassed because they possess a protected characteristic. In this context, a protected characteristic can be a belief, specifically a philosophical belief.

So, does supporting the Labour Party, or Conservatory Party, or a local independent MP provide an employee with this protection? Broadly speaking, no as ACAS states that supporting a political party does not provide this protection. However, it does go on to say that a political philosophy that significantly affects how a person lives their life may be protected as a philosophical belief.

Philosophical Belief Protection Under the Equality Act 2010: Are Political Opinions Included?

Following several cases, the employment appeal tribunal provided a criterion that defines a philosophical belief as follows:

  • The belief must be genuinely held. It doesn’t have to be shared by others and it may be based on science, such as Creationism.
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint on the present state of information.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. Essentially, the belief must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Therefore, whilst a political ‘opinion’ on its own is not protected, if an employee can show that their belief in a political philosophy or doctrine (such as socialism, or Marxism), then an employee might qualify as having a philosophical belief, which is a protected characteristic.

Cases on Political Opinion and Philosophical Belief

  1. In Finnon v Asda Stores Ltd ET/2402142/05, the employment tribunal found that the BNP did not involve a clear belief system or a profound belief affecting the way of life or view of the world. Its idea of “Britishness” did not replicate what is found in major religions, and as such, did not find that this was a philosophical belief.
  2. In Olivier v Department of Work and Pensions (2013) ET/1701407/2013, the claimant was a civil servant with strong ties to the Labour Party having been an active member for over 30 years. The employment tribunal found that his mere support for the party was not enough for him to have the protection, but it was his political belief in “democratic socialism”, which is enshrined by the Labour Party’s core values, that influenced how he had lived his life. For this reason, the employment tribunal found that it qualified as a philosophical belief.
  3. In the case of Henderson v GMB, the claimant was employed as a regional organising officer by the GMB trade union. After many issues that had arisen between the claimant and his line manager, and his refusal to attend any internal meetings, he was dismissed for gross misconduct because he was ‘unmanageable’. The claimant claimed that he was unfairly dismissed.He pursued discrimination on the basis that he was ‘too left-wing’ and a supporter of the Labour Party (he did not pursue his claim under the Employment Rights Act 1996, but he may have commenced his claim prior to 2013) The employment appeal tribunal accepted that the claimant’s association with the Labour Party amounted to a philosophical belief. Still, they found that the claimant was fairly dismissed because it was related to his conduct and not because of his beliefs.


Overall, an employee is protected from being dismissed for expressing political debate at work or being affiliated with a political party, however, this can be difficult to prove at times.

An employee must be cautious when entering a political debate at work with a colleague that could result in a heated argument, causing animosity and an uncomfortable workplace. Whilst an employee has the right to express their opinion or be affiliated with political groups, they must be respectful when doing so. Failing to be respectful in a political debate at work, could result in disciplinary action for their conduct.

Redmans Solicitors are employment law specialists and could discuss your case before advising on your possible next steps.

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