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Unfair dismissal for proselytising

Proselytising is where someone preaches about religion with a view to converting other people to that religion. The Court of Appeal has recently examined when a dismissal for proselytising can be fair.

In Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, the employee was a nurse who started conversations about her Christian religion with pre-operative patients. Several complained. The employee was told by her manager to stop initiating conversations about religion, which she agreed to do. However, she continued regardless. One patient said a pre-operative assessment where he was asked to pray and sing a Psalm was ‘like a Monty Python skit’. The employee was dismissed for gross misconduct following an investigation and disciplinary hearing.

The Court of Appeal upheld the employee’s dismissal. Although the right to freedom of religion under the European Convention on Human Rights gives individuals the right to express their religion freely, it does not legitimise improper proselytising. In this case, the employee had been warned about her behaviour, agreed to stop and yet continued. Some of the incidents, including the ‘Monty Python’ one, were clearly inappropriate. The employee had behaved inappropriately by improper proselytising and failing to follow a lawful instruction. She had been dismissed fairly because of her conduct.

The balance between allowing employees freedom to express their religion and protecting other people from improper proselytising can be a fine one. Employers should not shy away from addressing inappropriate behaviour but ensure managers follow disciplinary policies carefully.