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Employment Law Round Up: Recent European Court Decisions

European Court of Human Rights

UK law failed to protect Christian employee's Convention right to manifest her religious beliefs

The European Court of Human Rights has held that the UK failed to protect a Christian employee's right, under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to manifest her religious belief. Ms Eweida, whom British Airways prevented from wearing a cross owing to its uniform policy, failed in her religious discrimination claim before domestic courts and tribunals. However, while BA's wish to project a certain corporate image was legitimate, the Court of Appeal accorded it too much weight in deciding that the uniform policy was objectively justified.

However, the ECtHR rejected the complaints of three other Christian employees: Mrs Chaplin, a nurse whose employer prevented her from wearing a crucifix on hospital wards because of health and safety; Ms Ladele, a registrar who was dismissed by a council for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies; and Mr McFarlane, who was dismissed by Relate for refusing to counsel same-sex couples

In upholding Ms Eweida's complaint, the ECtHR departed from its previous case law, which suggested that employers' requirements do not interfere with religious freedom for Article 9 purposes, since employees are always entitled to resign and seek work elsewhere. This shift is likely to have a significant effect on future indirect discrimination cases in the UK based on religious or philosophical belief. (Eweida and others v United Kingdom [2013] ECHR 37.)

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