UK: Court Upholds Dismissal Based on Workplace Proselytizing

By Lisa Rix and Ben Smith September 23, 2019
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UK: Court Upholds Dismissal Based on Workplace Proselytizing

​A nurse's dismissal for improperly proselytizing at work was fair, the Court of Appeal in the United Kingdom recently decided.

The claimant was a Christian nurse, working in a preoperative assessment role at a hospital. As part of her job, she had to ask patients to identify their religion and note the response. The nurse often had further religious discussions with patients, which was not permitted. During these discussions, she did the following:

  • Told patients they would have a better chance of surviving the operation if they prayed.
  • Asked patients what they thought being a Christian was about and what Easter was about.
  • Gave a patient a Bible and told him she would pray for him.
  • Said prayers for patients.
  • Asked a patient to sing a psalm with her.

Many patients complained about this behavior, and the nurse received a warning about the inappropriateness of her conduct. Despite assuring her employer she would stop religious discussions with patients, the nurse continued to proselytize. After a disciplinary process, the employer ultimately dismissed her.

The nurse brought a claim for unfair dismissal. The Employment Tribunal, however, rejected this claim and found the dismissal was fair. The nurse appealed this decision, but the Employment Appeal Tribunal refused her permission to appeal.

The nurse appealed to the Court of Appeal, arguing that when considering the fairness of the dismissal, the Employment Tribunal had failed to distinguish between true evangelism and improper proselytizing in light of her right to manifest religion under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). The distinction between the two forms is not immediately clear, but it is likely that proselytizing becomes inappropriate when there is improper pressure involved or employees have been specifically instructed not to proselytize.

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The Court of Appeal dismissed the nurse's appeal. The court considered that the claimant had acted inappropriately by:

  • Improperly proselytizing to patients, which is not a manifestation of religion protected by the ECHR.
  • Failing to follow her manager's order.

The court concluded that the employer had carried out a fair disciplinary process and reached a reasonable conclusion in dismissing the nurse.

The claimant did not bring a religious-discrimination claim. However, such a claim likely would not have been successful. It is clear from court rulings that employees who continue to improperly proselytize at work despite a warning to stop, resulting in disciplinary action, are unlikely to prevail in a discrimination claim.

This case is Kuteh v. Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust.

Lisa Rix is an attorney with GQ|Littler in London. Ben Smith is a trainee attorney with GQ|Littler in London.

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