A senior occupational therapist who was disciplined for giving a Christian book to a Muslim colleague has today (05 OCT) been granted permission to appeal an Employment Tribunal ruling against her.
Judge Eady QC recognised the significance of Victoria Wasteney’s case in raising points of law of public importance.
She said that the Employment Appeal Tribunal should consider whether the original ruling had properly applied the European Convention on Human Rights’ strong protection of freedom of religion and expression.
Responding to today’s decision, Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Miss Wasteney, said:
“We are delighted that permission to appeal has been granted and that the judge has recognised the importance of the issues at stake.
“Victoria’s case raises crucial questions about how the European Convention on Human Rights’ strong protection of religious freedom applies in the UK and about the extent to which employers can censor freedom of expression.”
In April 2015, the Employment Tribunal ruled that East London NHS Foundation Trust acted reasonably in disciplining Miss Wasteney for praying (with consent) for her colleague, handing her a Christian book and inviting her to church events.The NHS disciplined her for harassment.
Following today’s decision, an appeal hearing is now expected next year.
The treatment of Miss Wasteney has raised serious concerns that political correctness in the NHS is stifling ordinary conversations about faith and damaging the development of healthy working relationships.
Miss Wasteney was represented in court by Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre Paul Diamond.
‘Harassing and bullying’
Victoria Wasteney has worked as an occupational therapist at the East London NHS Foundation Trust for over eight years and has an exemplary record.
However, she was accused of “harassing and bullying” her Muslim colleague for giving her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity.
And even though the colleague had given her consent, senior managers also told Miss Wasteney that she was wrong to pray with her and invite her to church events.
An internal disciplinary panel in February 2014 found her guilty of three charges of misconduct related to the accusations of “bullying and harassment” – praying with her colleague, giving her the book and inviting her to church events.
Miss Wasteney was suspended (on full pay) for nine months. Various measures designed to stop her discussing her faith and beliefs with colleagues were also imposed upon her. In April this year the Employment Tribunal ruled that the Trust acted reasonably in its handling of Miss Wasteney’s case.
Today, however, the Employment Appeal Tribunal granted permission to appeal that ruling.
‘Detrimental to normal working relationships’
Commenting on her case, Miss Wasteney said:
“I conducted all my conversations with my colleague in a sensitive and appropriate way. I knew she was from a different faith background and I was respectful of that. I didn’t force my beliefs on anyone at any point. Surely there should be room for mutual conversations about faith, where appropriate, in the workplace?
“A complaint was made against me by someone who left the job the following month and who did not attend the NHS trust’s disciplinary hearing or the Employment Tribunal. Evidence from text messages shows that we had a friendly relationship. I believe that the complaint has been handled in the way that it has because I am a Christian.
“I am relieved and pleased that the Employment Appeal Tribunal will now consider my case.
“There is already an unnatural caginess around faith and belief which is an obstruction to building meaningful relationships in the workplace and this case challenges that.”
‘Forced to hide identity’
Andrea Williams added:
“Victoria has been punished and left out in the cold for being honest and open about her faith and highlights an unhealthy trend.
“Do we want to be left with working environments where people are forced to hide their identity and the things that matter most to them? Such environments are detrimental to meaningful working relationships and ultimately to productivity.
“Victoria’s case underlines that the current ‘equality and diversity’ framework is having the opposite effect to what was intended. It is driving different people apart, not bringing them together, by breeding an atmosphere of mistrust in which people constantly feel as if they are walking on eggshells.”