Handling sensitive issues: disciplinary action over religious conversations in the workplace

A Christian NHS worker who was disciplined following a complaint from a colleague about a series of conversations of a religious nature lost her appeal against the NHS in the EAT. At first glance it may seem a little harsh that the case even went to the EAT, however, further reading of the case reveals the behaviour that the Tribunal and EAT clearly felt gave the East London NHS Trust the cause to take disciplinary action against its employee, Ms Wasteney.
In June 2013 a Muslim colleague of Ms Wasteney made a complaint to her employers that Ms Wasteney had, amongst other things, tried to impose her evangelical Christian views upon her, invited her to Christian church services, sent her tickets to Christian events, and sought to pray with her including on one occasion laying hands on her. She also gave the complainant a book about a Pakistani Muslim woman who had converted to Christianity.
As a result of the complaint Ms Wasteney was suspended from her position, which she claimed was discrimination against her by the Trust on grounds of her faith but the Employment Tribunal and EAT disagreed.
Following the decision, Miss Wasteney, from Epping, Essex, said: “What the court clearly failed to do was to say how, in today’s politically correct world, any Christian can even enter into a conversation with a fellow employee on the subject of religion and not, potentially, later end up in an employment tribunal.” – which clearly wasn’t the issue the EAT was grappling with!
What does this mean for employers?
Religious conversations at work are a sensitive area for employers to deal with. If you receive a complaint of this nature (or any similar nature) regarding the behaviour of work colleagues then there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you protect yourselves and your employees.

  • Have clearly documented procedures for raising complaints and grievances
  • Keep accurate records of all conversations from the moment anything is raised with you
  • Be clear about what happened, when and between whom
  • If necessary bring in an impartial investigator