Thursday, 14 February 2013

Heafield v Times Newspapers - Religious Harassment

In the case of Heafield v Times Newspaper Limited [2013] UKEAT 1305_12_1701 the Employment Appeal Tribunal had to consider whether there had been Religious Harassment contrary to Reg 5 of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 

 (1) For the purposes of these Regulations, a person (“A”) subjects another person (“B”) to harassment where, on grounds of religion or belief, A engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of -
(a) violating B’s dignity; or
(b) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive  environment for B.

(Thus regulation has now been replaced by s26 Equality Act 2010

(1) A person (A) harasses another (B) if—
(a) A engages in unwanted conduct related to (Religion or Belief), and
(b) the conduct has the purpose or effect of—
(i) violating B's dignity, or
(ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.

The facts of the case were that Mr Heathfield was a casual sub-editor on the Times newspaper and is a Roman Catholic.  He was working at the Times during the visit to the United Kingdom of the Pope in 2010. 

One evening the Times was preparing a story about the Pope and there was some delay. One of the editors in the newsroom shouted across to the senior production executives “can anyone tell what’s happening to the f***ing Pope ?”.  When there was no response he repeated the question more loudly.  The Appellant was upset and offended what he heard.  He raised a complaint, which in his view was not properly progressed, and he then brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal for harassment and victimisation on the grounds of his religious belief.

The Times claimed that the phrase "the ** Pope" referred to the subject of the Article and was a common way of referring to articles by their subject matter.  The Tribunal held that the remark was not directed at Mr Heathfield and in the context was not said  "on grounds of religion or belief" therefore the claim was not made out.

Very much a decision on its own specific facts this case does demonstrate the difficulties of making out a claim of Harassment based simply on general anti-religious comments in the workplace but which are not specifically aimed at any individual

No comments: