An Employment Tribunal has recently decided on if supporting a football club is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

How does the law define a religion or belief?

Someone’s “religion or belief” is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Employees are protected if they are discriminated against because of their religion or philosophical belief.

How does the Tribunal decide if someone’s philosophical belief qualifies for protection? The explanatory notes to the Equality Act outline five stages to the test:

  1. It must be genuinely held.
  2. It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  4. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Interestingly, the Explanatory Notes also read: “Beliefs such as humanism and atheism would be beliefs for the purposes of this provision but adherence to a particular football team would not be”.

There has been a flurry of high-profile cases on the issue of philosophical belief in the workplace. Case law helps courts to interpret how legislation is applied to everyday scenarios.

What is the background here?

Mr McClung was dismissed by his employer, Doosan Babcock Limited . He alleged he was dismissed because of his support for Glasgow Rangers. The Tribunal accepted that Mr. McClung was a devoted and avid Rangers fan, and his belief in supporting them was genuinely held. He passed the first criteria.

However,  the Tribunal went on to find that Mr McClung’s support for Rangers was similar to support or active membership of a political party –  which, has been found not constitute a philosophical belief. He failed the second criteria.

The Tribunal then went on to assessed his belief alongside other recent cases which have involved national independence, gender critical beliefs and ethical veganism. These beliefs have been shown to be of significant importance, which influences decisions and behaviour. The Tribunal found that Mr McClung’s buying a ticket, enjoying pre-match build up, excitement for matches on match days, etc., were of subjective importance – but did not have a larger consequence regarding human life and behaviour.

Supporting a football club was considered a “lifestyle choice”. He failed criteria 3.

In assessing the fourth test – cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance, the Tribunal found that, whilst Mr McClung’s support for Rangers was fanatical, it has no larger consequences for humanity – with nothing supporting it beyond a desire for the team to do well.

In considering the last criteria, the Tribunal acknowledged that Mr McClung’s support for Rangers was worthy of respect, but did not find that such support was comparable to ethical veganism or national independence/governance.

The Tribunal, therefore, decided that support for Rangers does not amount to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act, and cannot be relied upon as a protected characteristic for the purposes of claiming discrimination under this legislation.

Interestingly, the Explanatory Notes also read: “Beliefs such as humanism and atheism would be beliefs for the purposes of this provision but adherence to a particular football team would not be”.

28th September 2022

Photo credit to Michael Bartlett



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