23 September 2022
Workers are protected under the Equality Act 2010 from suffering discrimination because of any of nine protected characteristics, one of which is religion or belief. Statute defines ‘belief’ as meaning any religious or philosophical belief. What amounts to a ‘philosophical’ belief has caused significant debate in employment tribunal claims; ethical veganism being a recent example. An employment tribunal has now had to tackle the issue of whether a passion shared by many - being a football club supporter – can amount to a philosophical belief.
The claimant supported a major club in the Scottish Premiership – Rangers. He attended every match and spent his discretionary income on attendance. He believed supporting Rangers was a way of life and as important to him as attending church is for religious people. The claimant asserted that supporters of Rangers Football club were traditionally described as Unionists (Scotland and Northern Ireland), Orange Order participants or supporters or Protestant Christians and that 95 per cent of fans supported our late Queen.
The tribunal concluded that being a supporter of Rangers was not capable of being a protected philosophical belief.
It was not in dispute that the claimant’s belief was genuinely held. However, other criteria necessary to constitute this as a philosophical belief were absent.
Critically, a distinction was made by the tribunal between ‘support’ and ‘belief’. The tribunal referred to explanatory notes to the legislation which state that adherence to a football team would not be a belief capable of protection and contrast ‘support’ (being ‘actively interested in and concerned for the success of’ a particular sports team) with the definition of ‘belief’ (being ‘an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof’). The tribunal also concluded that support for a football club was seen as akin to a lifestyle choice, not to represent a belief as to a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and not to have larger consequences for humanity as a whole. Supporting a football club in the tribunal’s view did not suggest fans had to behave, or did behave, in a similar way. The only common factor was that fans wanted their team to do well. It therefore lacked the required characteristics of cogency, cohesion and importance to be a philosophical belief. Finally, support for Rangers did not invoke the same respect in a democratic society as other matters already accepted as constituting a philosophical belief.
Employers facing assertions of a philosophical belief are advised to take care in their enquiries or questioning and to do so with respect but may draw support from the approach taken by the tribunal in this case. Many football fans are passionate, but it is helpful for employers to know that passionate support for a football team did not meet the threshold of seriousness necessary to constitute a protected philosophical belief for discrimination protection purposes.
If you are an employer facing an assertion or a claim of discrimination from a worker and would like support from our team, please contact Charlie Barnes.