The Employment Appeal Tribunal case that we’re going to examine this week is Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd UKEATPA/1305/12/BA. This case concerns harassment in the workplace on the grounds of religious belief – specifically when unwanted conduct has the purpose or effect of offending a person and when such offence is reasonable.

  1. What were the facts in Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd UKEATPA/1305/12/BA?
  2. What is the law relating to harassment on the grounds of religious belief?
  3. What was the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision?
  4. Our specialist employment lawyers’ thoughts on Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd UKEATPA/1305/12/BA

What were the facts in Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd UKEATPA/1305/12/BA?

Mr Heafield (“the Claimant”) is a Roman Catholic. He was working at the Times Newspaper as a sub-editor when the Pope was visiting London in 2010. An editor chasing a story on the Pope shouted across the news floor “can anyone tell what’s happening to the fucking Pope?”. There was no answer. The editor repeated the question. The Claimant complained to the Respondent of the editor’s conduct and subsequently made claims of harassment and victimisation in the Employment Tribunal. The Employment Tribunal rejected both of the Claimant’s claims, stating that the Respondent had engaged in “unwanted conduct” but that this conduct did not have the purpose or effect of violating his dignity or of creating an adverse environment for him. The Tribunal also found that the conduct was not on the grounds of the Claimant’s religion as the editor did not have the intention of offending the Claimant, nor did he know that the Claimant was a Roman Catholic. The Claimant appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the harassment point.

What is the law relating to harassment on the grounds of religious belief?

Harassment in the workplace related to a protected characteristic (age, race, sex, disability etc.) is unlawful under s.26 of the Equality Act 2010. Under s.26 workplace harassment occurs if:

  1. One person is subjected to unwanted conduct by another; and
  2. That conduct has the purpose or effect of violating that person’s dignity or creating an adverse environment for them; and
  3. That conduct is on the grounds of the person’s protected characteristic

What was the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision?

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the Employment Tribunal’s decision and rejected the Claimant’s appeal. The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the editor did not have the intention of offending the Claimant and nor was it reasonable for the Claimant to be offended by the conduct in question (and thus for the conduct to have the effect of offending him). Further (although less convincingly), the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the conduct complained of was not related to the Claimant’s religion. The Employment Judge declined to elaborate further on this point as the Claimant had failed on their first ground of appeal.

Our specialist employment lawyers’ thoughts on Heafield v Times Newspaper Ltd UKEATPA/1305/12/BA

Chris Hadrill, employment law solicitor at Redmans, stated that “although an unquestionably sound judgment, the Employment Judge appears to have dodged the bullet of whether the conduct in question was on the grounds of the Claimant’s religion. The main thing to take from this case is the fact that it must be reasonable for a potential Claimant for harassment in the Employment Tribunal to have been offended by the other party’s conduct (unless, of course, it had the purpose of offending the Claimant). If the conduct complained of was utterly unintentional and quite trivial in nature then the Employment Tribunal is likely to take the view that the harassment claim should fail”.

Redmans Solicitors are employment law solicitors (including unfair dismissal solicitors) based in London

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About Redmans Employment Team

Redmans Employment Team deal with employment matters for both employers and employees, including drafting employment contracts and policies, advising employers and employees on compromise agreements, handling day-to-day HR issues, advising on restructures, and handling Employment Tribunal cases for both employers and employees

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