Discrimination – Is a belief in the sanctity of copyright a protected “belief”
The Court of Appeal has considered whether it was discriminatory on the grounds of belief to dismiss an employee for asserting her right to own the copyright in her own creative works.
In Gray v Mulberry, the employee refused to sign a standard contract assigning copyright in the work she produced whilst employed to Mulberry. She was scared that it would give them ownership of other written work she produced in her spare time. The contract was changed to exclude the written work, but she still refused to sign it and was dismissed.
The employee claimed that her belief in 'the statutory human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output [unless made for the employer's benefit]' was a philosophical belief and protected under the Equality Act 2010. She said her dismissal for this belief was discriminatory.
To qualify as a philosophical belief, a belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness and importance. The belief must be similar in status to a religious belief. The employment tribunal said the belief in this case lacked the cogency needed to qualify as a belief. The Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed that the tribunal had not set the bar too high when making its decision. The Court of Appeal came to the same decision, on slightly different grounds. They said there was no connection between the employee's stated belief and her dismissal. She had refused to sign the contract, and was dismissed, because she felt the wording did not properly protect her own interests. The Court of Appeal said a debate or dispute about the wording of a contract could not be a philosophical belief.
It is comforting to employers that businesses can legitimately take steps to protect their business interests. This case is another example of an employee without enough continuous service to claim unfair dismissal having to be 'creative' in order to seek redress. Unfortunately for her, her 'belief' was not creative enough. Employers should always respect and try to accommodate employees whose religion or similar beliefs do genuinely impact on their actions at work.