Use of “religiously-orientated” swear words did not constitute religious belief harassment, rules Employment Tribunal

MoJA Christian worker has failed in her attempt to sue her former employer in a tribunal for religious belief harassment.

M, a care home nurse who is Christian, brought a claim for religious belief harassment and unfair dismissal (among other claims) against her former employer, P Care Home Limited, and former colleagues after she alleged that she had been harassed by her former co-workers and unfairly dismissed from her job.

The Employment Tribunal heard evidence from M (whose name has not been revealed for legal reasons) that her line manager had continuously used swear words in the workplace that had a racial overtone, such as saying “oh my fucking God” and “Jesus fucking Christ”. M stated that she had not complained about her manager swearing at the time for fear of ‘rocking the boat’ but had in fact found the swearing offensive.

M’s former manager admitted swearing with racial overtones but denied that the swearing had been directed at M, nor that the swearing was intended to offend M. She stated – and was supported by other evidence – that she had used such swear-words when M was not in attendance. Further, M’s manager denied that stating that “prayers don’t work for me” was intended to be personally offensive to M but simply a statement that she did not believe in the power of prayer.

Although the Employment Tribunal found in M’s favour in her claim for unfair dismissal (and awarded her £18,417 in compensation for loss of earnings), it rejected her claims for unlawful harassment because of religious belief. The Employment Tribunal found that the manager had sworn with racial overtones and that this constituted unwanted conduct. However, the Tribunal also found that this swearing could not reasonably have been perceived by M to have created an offensive environment for her, nor that the remarks related specifically to M’s religion – they were commonly-used, albeit blasphemous, swear words and were not intended to be abusive towards religion generally or any religion in particular.

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “If employees are particularly offended by any of the conduct of their colleagues then they should use the established grievance procedure to complain about this – if there is no grievance procedure then they should simply write to a relevant person to set out what their complaints are. A failure to do so can be the difference between winning and losing an Employment Tribunal case.”