Tribunal hears appeal of NHS therapist

26 February 2016

Today, the Employment Appeal Tribunal heard the case of a senior occupational therapist who was disciplined for giving a book to a Muslim colleague. Judgment has been reserved for a later date.

Victoria Wasteney, who is supported by the Christian Legal Centre, won permission to appeal the ruling against her last October, when the judge recognised the significance of her case with regard to the issue of religious freedom under the European Convention on Human Rights.

In April 2015, the Employment Tribunal ruled that East London NHS Foundation Trust acted reasonably in disciplining Miss Wasteney for praying with a colleague, handing her a Christian book and inviting her to church events. The NHS disciplined her for harassment.

In October’s decision, Judge Eady QC 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.

The treatment of Miss Wasteney has raised serious concerns that equality policies in the NHS are stifling ordinary conversations about faith and damaging the development of healthy working relationships.

Miss Wasteney was represented today in court by Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre Paul Diamond.

Please continue to pray for Victoria as she awaits the decision.

‘Harassment and bullying’

Victoria Wasteney has worked as Head of Forensic Occupational Therapy at the East London NHS Foundation Trust for eight years.

Despite having an exemplary record, she was accused in 2014 of “harassment and bullying”, simply for giving a Muslim colleague a book about a Muslim’s encounter with Christianity.

And even though the colleague had given her consent, senior managers also told Victoria that she was wrong to pray with her and invite her to church events.

These events had taken place over the course of several months, in the context of what Victoria believed to be a genuine friendship.

An internal disciplinary panel in February 2014 found her guilty of three charges of misconduct related to the accusations of “harassment and bullying” – praying with her colleague, giving her the book and inviting her to church events.

She was suspended for nine months.

Victoria, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, took the case to an Employment Tribunal, but in April last year it ruled that the trust had acted reasonably.

Today, this decision was appealed.

Commenting on the 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.”

‘Victoria is a brilliant professional’

Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre Andrea Williams said that the case highlights the problems caused by the current ‘equality and diversity’ framework, as, despite Victoria’s professionalism, she has been targeted for expressing her Christian beliefs.

“Victoria is someone who has proven herself to be a brilliant professional. What we see in Victoria is someone who brings her character, love, kindness and care to her colleagues. However, she has been punished and left out in the cold for being honest and open about her faith.

“The current ‘equality and diversity’ framework is then having the opposite effect to what was intended. Rather than protect the freedom to express faith in the workplace, people are being forced to hide their identity and the things that matter to them most, as they tread on eggshells, fearing the consequences.”

Related Links:

Watch Victoria Wasteney speak to BBC News’ Victoria Derbyshire about her case

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