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Is supporting a football club a protected philosophical belief?

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Is supporting a football club a protected philosophical belief?

Is supporting a football club a protected philosophical belief?

In the recent case of McClung v Doosan Babcock Limited, the employment tribunal had to determine whether support for Glasgow Rangers Football Club was a philosophical belief within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.

The test to determine whether a particular philosophical belief is protected as such under the Equality Act 2010 derived from Grainger plc and others v Nicholson, whereby it was held that the belief must:

  1. Be genuinely held;
  2. Be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  3. Be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  4. Have a certain level of seriousness and importance; and
  5. Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, i.e. not be incompatible with human dignity or conflict with the fundamental rights of others

These 5 points are known as the “Grainger criteria”.

Did this apply to Mr McClung?

Mr McClung has supported Rangers for most of his life, spends the majority of his disposable income on attending their matches and has never missed a match. To Mr McClung, supporting Rangers is a way of life and is as important to him as going to a place of worship is to a religious person.

Mr McClung’s support for Rangers was defined by the tribunal as a belief which was genuinely held. Whilst points 1 and 2 above were therefore satisfied, the remainder of the criteria were not. The tribunal therefore concluded that supporting a football club is not a protected philosophical belief. Rather, it is akin to a lifestyle choice or support for a political party.

Although many football fans would disagree, the tribunal found that support for a football club was not about a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and it was not of significant importance, as required by points 3 and 4 of the Grainger criteria. The tribunal reached this conclusion on the basis that fans have various reasons behind their support for their respective football teams and show their support in different ways. Notably, the tribunal commented that Mr McClung’s support for Rangers was of subjective importance to him and could therefore not satisfy points 3 or 4.

When assessing point number 5, the tribunal found that Mr McClung’s support was worthy of respect insofar as it was for him to decide which football team he wished to support. However, it did not invoke the same respect in a democratic society as matters of (for example) ethical veganism which has been the subject of academic research and commentary.

What’s the verdict?

Ultimately, by confirming that supporting a football club is not a protected philosophical belief, we consider that the tribunal has come to the correct conclusion.

The McClung case opens up the question of what other beliefs may be found to qualify for protection under the Equality Act. The Covid-19 pandemic prompted discussions around mandatory vaccination policies, and it remains unclear whether the increasingly popular anti-vaccination belief would quality as a philosophical belief. The same goes for strongly held views on Brexit and climate change denial.

Despite this, employers should not be deterred from taking appropriate disciplinary action where staff express their beliefs or opinions in an irresponsible or harassing way.

Get in touch

If you have any queries relating to this update, or require any advice on issues you may be facing in the employment sector, please contact Jon Taylor.

This article was written with the assistance of Jordan Pace and Claudia Pert.