Every worker on the territory of Europe has some minimum rights related to protection against discrimination in the workplace based on gender, race, religion, age, disability and sexual orientation (“Rights at work”, n.d.). The following essay will focus on a legal issue related to discrimination of employees in the workplace based on religion. I chose this topic because nowadays more and more people are being discriminated by their employer as to whether they can express their religions at their workplace.
My research focuses on four British practicing Christians who have complaints that their rights to expression of religion are violated by their employer. The legal case I chose to focus on is Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom ( application nos . 48420/10, 59842/10, 51671/10 and 36516/10). The case was decided by the European Court of Human Rights on 27/05/2013. Ms. Eweida, an employee of British Airways and Mrs. Chaplin, a geriatric nurse, complained that their employers put restrictions on carrying a Christian cross around their neck at work. Mrs. Ladele, registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, and Mr. McFarlane, a Relate counselor, complained that they were dismissed because they refused to perform some of their duties that they thought would justify homosexuality ( “Case of Eweida and others v. The United Kingdom” , n.d.).
At first, these legal cases were at the domestic law level but as the four candidates complained that domestic law in the UK could not adequately protect their right to express their religion, their complaints are transferred to the level of The Council of Europe law, which makes it international. Mrs Eweida, Mrs Chaplin and Mr McFarlane refer to Article 9 (freedom of religion), taken independently in connection with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination). Mrs Ladele only complained under Article 14, taken together with Article 9. Their applications were submitted to the European Court of Human Rights respectively on 10 August, 29 September, 27 August and 24 June 2010 ( „European Convention on Human Rights” , n.d.).
Facts about the applicants
Ms. Eweida and Mrs. Chaplin believe that the visible wearing of a cross is important for the manifestation of the Christian faith.
Ms. Ladele and Mr. McFarlane believe that homosexual relationships are contrary to God’s law and it is incompatible with their religion to carry out any actions justifying homosexuality.
Since 1999 Ms. Eweida worked part-time as a member of the check-in staff for Britisch Airways. She is required to wear a uniform without visible jewelry, and each item must be hidden under the clothes. By May 2006 Mrs. Eweida wears a small silver cross around her neck, hidden under her uniform, but as a sign of strong faith, she decides to begin to wear the cross open. In September of the same year, she was sent home without pay until she agreed to observe the code that forbids the showing of jewelry. In October 2006 the company offers her an administrative work without a compulsory uniform and no contact with customers. She refused it and returns to work in February 2007 when the company’s policy was changed and employees were allowed to display religious and charity symbols.
Ms. Eweida lodged a complaint with Employment Tribunal on the basis of religion-based discrimination. The court rejected Mrs. Eweida’s claim, based on the claim that the visible cross-wearing is not a requirement of Christian faith, and British Airways does not place Christians in general at a disadvantage. Her appeal to the Court of Appeal was also rejected ( “Case of Eweida and others v. The United Kingdom” , n.d.).
From April 1989 to July 2010 Ms. Chaplin works as a qualified nurse for Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. At that time she worked in a geriatric department. In 2007, new uniforms with V-spikes are introduced in the hospital. Mrs. Chaplin’s manager asks her to take the cross from her neck, and she wants his approval to continue to wear it. The manager forbids it because of safety measures. In November 2009. it has been moved to a non-nursing temporary position which ceased to exist in July 2010.
Mrs . Chaplin also lodged a complaint with Employment Tribunal based on the same reason. Her request was also rejected in May 2010, and the Tribunal justified that the hospital’s ban was based on safety-related and health measures and that there was no evidence of another disadvantaged employee ( “Case of Eweida and others v. The United Kingdom” , n.d.).
Ms. Ladele works as a registrar for the London Borough of Islington. When the Civil Partnership Act comes into force in the UK in December 2005, the employer obliges her to convene homosexual civil partnership ceremonies. Ms. Ladele refused to agree to sign the amendment to the contract. In May 2007, a disciplinary procedure has been instituted against her. It concludes that if she does not include this activity as part of her obligations, her contract could be terminated.
She lodged a claim to the Employment Tribunal on the grounds of religious discrimination and claims she is unfairly dismissed. This request is rejected on the grounds that their employers have the right to require them to fulfill their obligations and to refuse to accept views that comply with the declared principles. In 2010, Ms. Ladele received a refusal to go to the Supreme Court ( “Case of Eweida and others v. The United Kingdom” , n.d.).
Mr. McFarlane is employed by Relate as a counsellor from May 2003 to March 2008. In 2007 he starts postgraduate training in psycho-sexual therapy. This includes sexual dysfunction and aims to improve the sexual activity of the couple experiencing a problem. Towards the end of 2007, Mr. McFarlane’s superiors and other therapists found that there was a conflict between his religious views and his work with homosexual couples. In March 2018, Mr. McFarlane was released from his duties due to a violation of the company’s policies on equal opportunities and counseling for homosexual couples.
He lodges a claim based on the same reason as Ms. Ladele and his request is rejected due to the same principles ( “Case of Eweida and others v. The United Kingdom” , n.d.).
The decision of the European Court of Human Rights
The decision was made by the following seven judges: David Thór Björgvinsson (Iceland), President, Lech Garlicki (Poland), Nicolas Bratza (the United Kingdom), Päivi Hirvelä (Finland), Zdravka Kalaydjieva (Bulgaria), Nebojša Vu?ini? (Montenegro), Vincent A. de Gaetano (Malta), and also Lawrence Early, Section Registrar.
As the basic principles of its judgment, the court emphasizes the importance of religion as the identity of believers. The freedom of religion under Article 9 of the Convention permits freedom of religious manifestation in the workplace. Restrictions can, however, be made when the religious observance of a person affects the rights of others. The task of the court is to determine whether the measures at the national level have achieved fairness between the competing interests.
Ms Eweida and Ms Chaplin
The court states that there is a conflict with the rights of the two women to manifest their religion. As for Ms. Eveida, she could not prescribe this intervention directly to the country as she works for a private company. Britain has no legal provisions specifically regulating the wearing of religious attire and symbols in the workplace. The Court concludes that no equitable balance has been reached between British Airlines and Ms. Eweida. Other BA employees were previously empowered to carry religious objects, such as turbans and hijabs, without adversely affecting the brand or image of British Airlines. Local authorities have failed to protect Ms. Eweida’s right to manifest her religion, as the company changes the unified code and allows the visible wearing of religious symbolic jewels. This indicates that the previous ban was not essential. Local authorities do not deal separately with the complaint under Article 14 in conjunction with Article 9. An analysis of the right to wear religious symbols in the workplace in 26 countries across the Council of Europe shows that the wearing of such items and clothes is not regulated.
However, the Court’s opinion on Ms. Chaplin’s case is different. According to the court, the reason for the request to Mr. Chaplin to remove her cross, namely the safety of the hospital, is more important than her personal reason. For this reason, the court concludes that the requirement was not disproportionate and that interference with the removal of the cross was necessary. Therefore, there is no violation of Article 9 as well as Article 14.
Ms Ladele and Mr McFarlane
The court considers employers’ policies as the most important factor, namely to promote equal opportunities and to require employees to act in ways that do not discriminate against others. This includes the protection of the rights of homosexual couples. In some cases, the court ruled that differences in the handling of same-sex couples require serious justification. Homosexual couples are in a relatively similar situation as couples of different sex in terms of legal recognition and protection of relationships. As a result, the court decides that the right balance has been reached and accepts that there has been no violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 9, as concerned Ms. Ladele . It also decides that there has been no violation of Article 9 – taken alone or in conjunction with Article 9 as regards Mr. McFarlane.
The court decided that the United Kingdom must pay Ms. Eweida 2,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage and 30,000 euros for costs and expenses ( “Case of Eweida and others v. The United Kingdom” , n.d.).
In conclusion, I would first like to show my opinion in general on the expression of religion in the workplace and then I will focus on my opinion on the above legal cases and the court’s decision.
First of all, I would like to express my opinion not only as a Christian but as a citizen of a country that is also part of the European Council (Bulgaria). I believe that every single worker, whether in the private or public sector, has the right to express his or her faith in his workplace. But here is the place to say a big “but”. I believe that it is the right of every person to express his faith, but if he does not violate the rights of others around him.
In the four individual cases that I analyzed, candidates have complaints that they have been discriminated against at their workplace based on their religion. The European Court of Human Rights judges that only one of them is right. I fully support the court’s decision on the four cases and the reason for this is that I believe Ms. Eveida has been discriminated against because the company forbids her to carry symbols representing her religion and after a very short period of time they changed their rules and allowed the wearing of such items openly. In the past, other employees also had the right to wear jewelry and clothing showing their religion, which is an injustice to her on a personal basis. Based on the other three cases, I believe that the court has acted correctly. I think Ms. Chaplin has no right to object to hospital requests to take off her cross, as this would jeopardize the safety of the work environment. In my opinion, the healthcare is the most important sphere in a modern economy and that hospital staff should be aware that they hold human lives in their hands and taking the maximum measures that will increase patient safety is a must. As for the other two cases, I think the request from both candidates is incorrect because they violate their company policy and discriminate against others.