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The sensitive subject of workers' political beliefs; LAW & MORE.

Byline: BETHAN DARWIN LAW & MORE

THE General Election reinforced the growing significance of social media versus traditional print media in political campaigns.

Labour's use of social media is credited with the increased turnout of younger people and the subsequent impact on the results.

I noticed during this general election that social media users fall roughly into three camps: | Politically active: Posting comments and links about the party they support and the reasons for their support ; | "Social" media advocates: Complaining about the political posts, stating that social media was intended to be "social" and asking their friends to desist from political posts; | Those who either disappear from social media altogether for the duration or who keep out of politics and carry on posting photos of their children's achievements, their pets or their nights out.

Some of the posts I read during the general election created heated debate from those with opposing views. This led me to consider what issues might arise in the workplace as a result of political views.

You might think that political views have no impact on the workplace at all. However, under the Equality Act, the protected characteristics on the grounds of which employees should not be discriminated against include the ground of religion and belief. And belief is defined as any religious or philosophical belief.

So do political beliefs fall within the category of philosophical belief? In the case of Grainger plc v Nicholson, a case in which the claimant argued that he had a "philosophical belief that mankind is heading towards catastrophic climate change and therefore we were under a moral duty to lead our lives in a manner which mitigates or avoids this catastrophe for the benefit of future generations" the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) determined that this could amount to a philosophical belief. It also gave some guidance as to the definition of philosophical belief.

The belief must be genuinely held, and it must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and must be worthy of respect in a democratic society. It need not be shared with others.

The EAT also stated that while "support of a political party" does not of itself amount to a philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine, such as Socialism, Marxism or free-market Capitalism, might qualify."

Employment tribunals have decided that the following can amount to philosophical beliefs: | A belief in the sanctity of life, extending to a fervent anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing belief; | A belief in the "higher purpose" of public service broadcasting, to encourage debate and citizenship in a public space; and | A belief that public service and the need to engender in others a desire and commitment to serve the community for the common good.

Although members of far right extremist groups such as the British National Party have thus far failed in their arguments of unfair dismissal due to their beliefs, it seems likely that those who believe in socialism or conservatism would meet the criteria of having a philosophical belief.

All equal opportunities policies include a statement along the lines that employees are not to be discriminated against on the grounds of their protected characteristics, including religion or belief. Social media policies also generally require that employees not use social media to harass, bully or discriminate against employees on the grounds of their protected characteristics.

However, as many employees may not be aware that belief includes philosophical beliefs, not just religious ones, this is something that is worth covering off as part of the induction process. As is reminding people not to say anything online that they would not say to a colleague's face and that what goes online stays online.

| Bethan Darwin is a partner with law firm Thompson Darwin.

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 20, 2017
Words:663
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