A childcare manager has had her unfair dismissal claim turfed out of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the UK after it was found she “harassed” colleagues with her devout beliefs.
Anna Grace was a nursery manager at Places for Children’s nursery in London and was dismissed after holding an “unauthorised training session for staff members” which caused complaints.
Grace also revealed the contents of a dream to a pregnant staff member which left her “extremely scared, believing she would suffer a miscarriage”, and told a staff member something was going to happen in the childcare centre which would have a massive ripple effect “which left staff members uneasy and scared”.
Places for Children told Grace it was not company policy to hold “Bible sessions” and it was “unsuitable” to have discussions about religion at the workplace.
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Grace lodged a claim of discrimination, but it was dismissed by an Employment Tribunal and later on appeal by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
The Employment Tribunal found Grace was not dismissed because of the religious beliefs that she held, but because of the inappropriate ways in which she had manifested them at the workplace.
An employee under British law is still entitled to “manifest” their beliefs at work in ways that do not offend other people, such as by praying or wearing clothing associated with their religion.
Alana Heffernan, employment and industrial lawyer with Maurice Blackburn, told SmartCompany the same arguments were likely to occur under Australian law.
“In Australia, most states and territories have discrimination law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religious belief and activity,” she says.
Heffernan says like in the United Kingdom, in Australia an employer has to persuade the court a dismissal was the result of the employee harassing colleagues, not a result of the employee’s religious belief.
“When an employee’s conduct towards colleagues is inappropriate and distinguishable from the protected attribute which is religious belief, it won’t be found to be unlawful dismissal,” she says.
“Employers need to make sure action taken against an employee is on the basis of their conduct rather than their belief.”
Heffernan says the definitions of religious belief and activity are quite broad under Australian anti-discrimination legislation.
“It’s a fine line in terms of what conduct would constitute religious activity,” she says.