Philosophical belief – Will the Tribunal “move the goalposts”?

Millions of football fans derive enjoyment from watching their team succeed, but does that support amount to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010?

For a philosophical belief to gain protection under the Equality Act 2010 it must:

  1. Be genuinely held;
  2. Be a belief and not a mere opinion or viewpoint;
  3. Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  4. Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  5. Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

In the recent case of Mr E McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd and others the tribunal considered whether the Claimant’s belief in supporting Rangers Football Club amounted to a philosophical belief. 

Mr McClung is a lifelong supporter of Glasgow Rangers Football Club. He worked as a subcontractor for Doosan Babcock via NRL recruitment consultancy. He alleged that his manager, a Celtic fan, did not offer him work because he supported Rangers. He brought a claim for discrimination on the basis that his support for Rangers amounted to a philosophical belief. 

Mr McClung told the Tribunal that he has been a Rangers supporter for most of his life (around 42 years). He attends one or two games each month and spends most of his disposable income on games. He argued that his support of Rangers was so strong that it was akin to religious people going to church. He also argued that he cared passionately about the UK (in terms of being a Unionist) and had allegiance to the Queen.

What’s the difference between a belief and support?

Doosan Babcock acknowledged that Mr McClung was a devoted fan, but argued that “support” and “belief” are not the same. They argued that a belief is an acceptance that something exists, or a firmly held opinion, whereas support is to be actively interested in and concerned for the success of something (i.e. a particular sports team). Doosan Babcock accepted that supporting a football team was not objectionable in any way but argued that, on balance, it did not hold much importance to society when compared with other weightier issues such as ethical veganism. Reference was also made to the (non-binding) Equality and Human Rights Commission Statutory Code of Conduct on Employment, which states that adherence to a particular football team would not amount to a philosophical belief.

The Employment Judge considered that Unionism and allegiance to the Queen, whilst important to the Claimant, were not matters which underpinned or explained what the belief in being a Rangers fan was about. The Judge accepted that Mr McClung’s belief in supporting Rangers was genuinely held, but found that it did not meet limbs 2-5 of the criteria set out above.

Whilst this decision is not binding on other tribunals, and each case will turn on its own facts, it provides an interesting example of how a tribunal may approach belief claims based on support of a football team. Other recent tribunal decisions have found that ethical veganism, spiritualism, a belief that people should participate in the democratic process, and a belief in never lying amounted to protected philosophical beliefs. These cases should serve as a reminder that employers should consider employee’s personal beliefs carefully and take steps to ensure that employees are not treated unfavourably because of those beliefs. 

Mr McClung has reported to the Daily Record that he intends to appeal this decision. Will the Employment Appeal Tribunal move the goalposts of philosophical belief? Watch this space…

Contact the BTO Employment Team if you would like to discuss any aspect of this blog.

This update contains general information only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.

Katie Hendry, Solicitor: / 0141 221 8012 / Connect with Katie on LinkedIn