Following our earlier blog on Sunday working, it would seem that the scope of the Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR") is being well and truly tested of late. Last week a tax tribunal determined that a devout Seventh-Day Adventist couple, who run a bee keeping business, must be permitted to file their tax return by post after they argued that their religious convictions prevented them from using the internet and filing their tax return online. The tribunal judge ruled that by refusing to exempt the couple from online filing, HMRC had breached Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights in denying them their right to manifest their religious beliefs by refusing to use computers.
This is a decision by the tax tribunal and not the employment tribunal and, in an employment context, an employer would in all likelihood have stronger justification for requiring an individual to use a computer and other forms of technology. But it does cause pause for thought. The European Court of Human Rights' decision in Eweida clearly has very wide implications, particularly in the workplace, and we are now starting to see the impact of that decision in cases such as this one. Employers would be unwise to dismiss out of hand any request by an employee where they cite their right to manifest their religious beliefs. When dealing with such requests, the prudent employer should always ensure that a fair balance is struck, by the competing interests of the individual and of the job they are being asked to perform – otherwise they run the risk of a claim.
Incidentally, the Ministry of Justice has launched a call for evidence and has asked for evidence on whether case law concerning the European Convention on Human Rights has been advantageous or disadvantageous to individuals, business, the public sector or other groups in the UK. So, you now have a chance to have your say. The call for evidence closes on 13 January 2014 with a report on the Balance of Competencies on Fundamental Rights due in summer 2014.