Unfair Dismissal and Political Opinions
Is it unfair to dismiss an employee because of their political opinions? Not necessarily said the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Redfearn –v- UK. However, the dismissed employee must have the opportunity to judicially challenge the dismissal.
Mr Redfearn was employed as a driver in December 2003 providing a service to a predominantly Asian community. He ran for the BNP in a local election and was elected. His employer dismissed him, due to the risk that he could cause health and safety concerns to passengers and jeopardise the employer’s reputation. Mr Redfearn attempted to challenge the dismissal under the Race Relations Act 1976 (RRA) but was unsuccessful in the UK courts because his dismissal was not “on racial grounds” but on political grounds. Mr Redfearn could not challenge the dismissal under ordinary unfair dismissal law because he lacked the necessary qualifying service. However, Mr Redfearn took his case to the ECtHR who agreed that the UK had violated Article 11, the freedom of assembly and association, of the European Convention on Human Rights by having a barrier preventing employees who had been dismissed on political grounds from challenging their dismissal.
This ECtHR decision has led to a change in UK law so that from 25th June 2013, the requirement to have a minimum 2 years’ qualifying service to bring a claim of unfair dismissal does not apply to an employee who is dismissed due to their political opinion or affiliation.
However, the change does not mean that the dismissal is “automatically” unfair; it simply gives the employee a legal route to challenge the dismissal in the employment tribunal. The employer can still seek to justify its decision and establish that the dismissal was fair.