Our managing partner, Ben Power was published in the online law pages of The Times newspaper (The Brief) on 22 October 2018. This goes to show that although we may be a niche firm, we have national reach!
Everyone was talking about the Supreme Court’s decision in the so-called “gay cake” case. You can read our case report on the Springhouse website. But, Ben had some interesting thoughts about the implications of the case for workplaces and he was delighted when The Brief asked for his comments. You can read the finished article examining the case and its possible implications as published by The Brief in full if you are a subscriber. If not, we reproduce a summary below.
What might the impact of this decision be?
Equality legislation doesn’t just protect those who hold recognised religious beliefs, it also protects against direct and indirect discrimination based on philosophical or other beliefs. This means that a vast spectrum of views are potentially protected by the law such as pacifisim, environmentalism or veganism. Society appears to be becoming more and more polarised – are you a Brexiteer or a Remainer, pro- or anti-Trump, for or against fracking etc.? So, the potential for disputes around deeply held views to spill over into the workplace is likely to increase.
Standing in the middle of this is the employer, attempting to stay on the right side of the law. Until now, the courts and tribunals generally considered that the freedom to hold religious or other beliefs was paramount but, the right to manifest them was subject to interference in the right circumstances. It is hard to see how the latest decision from the Supreme Court fits that trend.
Yes, the owners of Ashers bakery had sincerely held Christian beliefs but, they were also in the bakery business and offered a product which allowed customers to build their own cake. It is hard to see how being asked to ice a slogan that they disagreed with interfered with their fundamental right to hold their religious views. Could a postal worker delivering advertising material for a company or organisation whose values they disagreed with now object to being required to do so?
It seems inevitable that many more workplace religion or belief claims will now be brought as those who hold strong views are more confident about asserting these, given the latest signal sent by the Supreme Court.