European Court provides guidance on religious freedom in the workplace

Decision questions U.K.'s employment protections

In a high-profile case concerning the religious discrimination claims of four United Kingdom-based practicing Christians, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Jan. 15 provided landmark guidance on how the right of religious freedom applies in the workplace.

Nadia Eweida, a check-in staff member for British Airways, and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse, each faced employer restrictions on their visible donning of cross necklaces. Lillian Ladele, a marriage registrar, and Gary McFarlane, a sex and relationship counselor, were terminated after Ladele refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples and McFarlane refused to work with gay and bisexual clients. 

Voluntary Practices

The ECHR held in Eweida that the religious manifestation in question need not be a requirement of said religion, such as male Sikhs’ turbans or female Muslims’ hijabs. The U.K. Employment Tribunal that previously dismissed Eweida’s claims had reasoned that for Christians, wearing a cross is a personal choice and thus does not fall within the scope of Article 9, but the ECHR said such a holding would give a higher level of protection to religions with specific rules. 

Associate Editor

Melissa Maleske

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