Why you shouldn’t talk (too much) about religion at work.
Ms Kuteh was a devoutly committed Christian nurse and clearly thought she was doing the right thing. Her employers disagreed,
As a nurse, Ms Kuteh’s duties involved filling in pre-operation forms with information from patients. This included asking about a patient’s religion. During assessments, she often took the opportunity to talk to patients about religion. Some felt disturbed by her insistence on bringing up her beliefs. One man, facing cancer treatment, said she offered him a Bible and induced him to sing part of a Biblical Psalm with her.
Some patients complained.
Despite assuring her matron that she would no longer initiate discussions about religion, she continued. Disciplinary proceedings followed and she was eventually dismissed.
What happened at Tribunal?
The Employment Tribunal found the dismissal fair and the EAT refused permission to appeal.
On appeal against that refusal, the Ms Kuteh complained that the Tribunal had failed to distinguish between true evangelism and improper proselytism.
Court of Appeal decision:
Her appeal regarding the refusal was dismissed. Whilst the court recognised that proselytism is protected, it noted the protection didn’t extend to improper proselytism.
The Court of Appeal emphasised that it was ‘important that cases such as this one should not be over-elaborate or excessively complicated’. The case was a claim for unfair dismissal:
- Ms Kuteh had accepted that on at least some occasions she started conversations with her patients about religion.
- She then assured her employer that she would stop doing this.
- Despite this she continued to do so.
- Her employer conducted a fair procedure, by way of investigation, at the disciplinary hearing and at the subsequent appeal.
- The decision to dismiss Ms Kuteh for misconduct was one in which the Tribunal had concluded fell within the band of reasonable responses open to an employer.
What should employers do?
The case is a reminder to employers that if employees conduct themselves in a way that you consider to be inappropriate, tacking it head-on in the line with your policies and good practice will usually mean that any dismissal will be fair.
Religious beliefs are a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (though they were not pleaded in this case) and so employers need to be wary when investigating complains involving expressions of someone’s religion or faith.
You can read the judgment of Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust here.