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Religious Discrimination: divide between ‘manifesting and ‘holding’ beliefs

Religious discussions, of whatever shade, are always a delicate and generally best avoided topic in the workplace. There is however obviously a need to ensure that workers are free to have their beliefs or lack thereof and that the relevant employer takes no umbrage at this fact. Naturally when a clash of ideologies occurs in the workplace, the employee is protected by virtue of religion and belief discrimination provisions of the Equality Act 2010.

The question recently posed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (“EAT”) in the case of Grave v Places for Children was whether there was a clear dividing line between the holding and manifesting of a religious belief.

The Claimant, Ms Grace, was a Nursery Manager at the Respondent business and had been such for only a short period when she held an unauthorised training session with staff, at which manifestations of her religious beliefs resulted in a number of complaints from the assembled staff. Some of the arguably more bizarre and somewhat morbid goings on at this meeting involved the Ms Grace revealing the contents of a dream she had to a pregnant member of staff, the details of which led that staff member in fear that she would suffer a miscarriage. Ms Grace also stated that she believed something was going to happen at the nursery which would have a massive ripple effect, again leaving other staff members feeling scared and uneasy.

The employment tribunal of first instance dismissed the claim advanced for unlawful religious discrimination, distinguishing the treatment of Ms Grace because of the inappropriate manner in which she had manifested or shared her beliefs from treatment on the grounds of her beliefs as such.

The EAT rejected Ms Grace’s appeal, finding that the fact that the original tribunal had referred in its judgment to the case of Chondol v Liverpool CC (where a social worker was dismissed for improperly imposing his beliefs on service users), with its readily distinguishable facts, did not amount to an error in law, as most facts in cases of this type are likely to be unique and so differ from other cases.

The EAT considered, in line with Paragraph 2.61 of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Code of Practice on Employment 2011, that there is “no clear dividing line between holding and manifesting a belief and that any unjustified unfavourable treatment because an employee has manifested his or her religion may amount to unlawful discrimination”.


The above case serves as a stark reminder of the uncertainty and subjectivity of discrimination law in the UK. On different facts it is entirely possible that seemingly similar cases could be decided in favour of the Claimant. Perhaps all the more reason then for employers to be vigilant in ensuring the content and manner of delivery of in-house training is appropriate.

Although the question was posed by the EAT to the employer in this case as to whether it had policies in respect of if and when employees could discuss religious matters, the employer wisely did not. Any such policy would of course be tantamount to inviting litigation on the part of an employer. 

if you have a question relating to religious belief give me a call on 0113 350 4030 or email me atsamira.cakali@scesolicitors.co.uk

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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