The European Court of Human Rights has this morning ruled that UK law does not give adequate protection to employees, including BNP members, who are dismissed because of their political affiliations. Audrey Williams, partner and discrimination law expert at global law firm Eversheds, says:
“The government is likely to ask for the case to be referred to the Strasbourg court’s Grand Chamber, to be re-examined by a full panel of 17 judges. It is not often that the Grand Chamber will agree to look again at an issue but it may well do so in this case given that today’s decision was reached by the barest of majorities: of the 7 judges on the panel that considered the case, only four felt that UK law needs to change; the other three disagreed, saying our domestic law is fine as it is.
“If the Grand Chamber does not overrule today’s decision, UK law will have to change to give employees with short service the right to claim unfair dismissal if they have been dismissed because of their political affiliation, for example because of BNP membership. At the moment only those with a year’s service or more can bring such claims – or two years’ service for those engaged after 5 April this year due to changes introduced recently by the government. Until the law is changed, private sector employees are unlikely to benefit from this ruling.
The position in the public sector is different as public authorities have a legal duty to act in a way that is consistent with the Human Rights Convention. According to today’s judgment, dismissing someone because they are a member of a political party might, in some cases, infringe that person’s right to freedom to associate with others. This could result in a dismissed employee making a claim in the civil courts under the Human Rights Act 1998.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that the Strasbourg court did not say it will never be appropriate to dismiss somebody because they are a member of a political party, just that employees should be able to have a court look into the decision to dismiss and decide whether it was reasonable; in cases like this much will depend on the nature of the individual’s job and, in some cases, the area in which they work.”