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Should an employee's unsavoury or offensive opinion always lead to dismissal? Beverley Sunderland looks at examples from case law and outlines how employers can handle staff whose views have upset others.
As we are increasingly seeing public figures being “cancelled” due to their views, it could be easy to form the opinion that anyone making comment that others disagree with can simply be dismissed.
Recent examples include Piers Morgan stepping down from Good Morning Britain after he expressed his views on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and the recent case of Maya Forstater whose consultancy position was not renewed by the Center for Global Development (CDG) after she posted a number of tweets which questioned government plans to let people declare their own gender. Forstater said she believed that sex is biologically immutable and binary.
Regardless of the headlines, which make it look simple to remove someone from their position if they offend the views of others, in reality taking action can be far more difficult. This is especially true of employees, although contractors performing work personally for an employer are also protected by the Equality Act as ‘workers’, as CDG discovered in the Forstater case.
Such is the concern among academics, students and visiting speakers about the impact expressing unpopular views might have on their relationship with a university, the Queen announced the Freedom of Speech (Higher Education) Bill allowing them to seek compensation through the courts if they suffer loss from a breach of their free speech rights. But is that really necessary?
Following the Forstater case, the threshold needed to prove a person holds a philosophical belief has been lowered. The belief must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity a