Religion at work: new ECHR ruling

The European Court of Human Rights has handed down a judgment considering the right of individuals to manifest their religion in the workplace.

In Eweida, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) considered the joined cases of four individuals who were all practicing Christians: Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Miss Chaplin, a nurse, complained their employers restricted them wearing visible crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Birth, Deaths and Marriages and Mr McFarlane, a Relate Councillor, complained about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain elements of their jobs which they considered would condone homosexuality, contrary to their religious beliefs.

All four individuals had brought cases of religious discrimination in the employment tribunal and had ultimately been unsuccessful in those claims. They therefore appealed to the ECHR. The European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) gives the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to manifest religion and belief, subject to certain limitations (Article 9). Article 14 provides that individuals must enjoy the rights conferred by the Convention without
discrimination on any grounds, including religion.

The Convention is incorporated into English law by the Human Rights Act 1998. While not directly applicable to private employers, Courts and tribunals must interpret domestic legislation as far as possible in a way which is compatible with Convention rights. In this way employees may “indirectly” access their Convention rights…

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