Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Lawyer warns debate could lead to legal action

Employment law specialist Tony Hadden has warned that heated debate over independence could cause problems for employers.
Employment law specialist Tony Hadden has warned that heated debate over independence could cause problems for employers.

As we enter the final phase of campaigning ahead of September’s independence referendum, the political temperature is rising and with it criticism of high profile participants on both sides of the debate.

JK Rowling was recently subjected to a torrent of abuse on social media after donating £1million to the Better Together campaign.

Political leaders on both sides have called for restraint but extreme views that often combine comment with personal attacks are still regularly expressed – particularly in cyberspace.

So far, our experience is that disruptive disputes around the independence debate have not emerged to any significant degree in the Scottish, or indeed the UK workplace.

Human resources practitioners and business leaders should, however, be careful about how they treat the independence issue.

This is because the protections against discrimination on grounds of ‘philosophical belief’ in the Equality Act could apply to a belief in or against Scottish independence.

Since the introduction of the protection in December 2003, there has been a debate about how far the protection extends and what constitutes a ‘belief’?

A decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2010 observed that whilst support of a political party might not be protected, “belief in a political philosophy or doctrine” could be.

The judge indicated that the protection would be subject to satisfying five criteria:

The belief must be genuinely held.

It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.

It must be a belief as to a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;

It must have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.

And it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not be incompatible with human dignity or with the fundamental rights of others.

Applying these criteria to a belief in, or against, Scottish independence, it is possible to argue that such a belief could be protected under the Equality Act.

That would mean that any detriment suffered by an employee as a result of the belief could amount to unlawful discrimination.

This could extend to comments which an employee found distasteful or upsetting or, in more extreme cases, decisions about bonus, promotion or even recruitment.

Employers, particularly those in Scotland, should be careful to ensure that employees who have strong views about the independence debate or who are actively involved in campaigns for one side or the other, keep any comments or views expressed in the workplace within the boundaries of acceptable political dialogue.

Tony Hadden is an employment law specialist with Brodies LLP, Edinburgh.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]

More from the Press and Journal Scottish politics team

More from the Press and Journal