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Higgs -v- Farmor’s School involved a pastoral administrator and work experience manager who was dismissed following complaints about her prejudiced views expressed on social media.

Ms Higgs made public posts criticising the nature of sex education in her son’s primary school (not the school she was employed by) and, in particular, the teaching about LGBTQ+ relationships and ‘gender fluidity’ and encouraged the signing of a petition against plans to make such teaching compulsory for children of primary school age.

Ms Higgs alleged that her dismissal was discriminatory on grounds of her:

  • Lack of belief in gender fluidity.
  • Lack of belief that someone could change their biological sex/gender.
  • Belief that marriage is a life-long union between one man and one woman.
  • Lack of belief in ‘same sex marriage’, for being contrary to Biblical teachings.
  • Opposition to sex and/or relationship education for primary school pupils.
  • Belief that she should publicly witness to Biblical truths whenever unbiblical ideologies are promoted.
  • Belief in the literal truth of the Bible.

Although her initial tribunal claim for direct discrimination/harassment related to religion or belief was unsuccessful, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned the decision and remitted the case for further findings.

The EAT’s ruling

The EAT found that the tribunal failed to adequately consider crucial aspects of the case. Specifically, it did not assess whether the employer’s actions were proportionate as an interference with the claimant’s right to freedom of religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, the tribunal did not conduct the necessary balancing exercise between the interference and the employer’s objectives in taking action.

Importance of motivation

One crucial point highlighted by the EAT was the need for tribunals to determine whether an employer’s actions were motivated solely by the objectionable manifestation of a religion or belief, rather than the belief itself. It is not sufficient for the tribunal to establish that the employer was concerned about the claimant being perceived as holding “wholly unacceptable views”. Instead, they must examine whether the motivation stemmed from the claimant’s protected manifestation of belief or a justified objection to that manifestation.

Nuanced decision-making

The EAT acknowledged that ‘manifestation’ cases are highly fact-specific and require nuanced decision-making. Consequently, it refrained from providing general guidelines, recognising that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. However, it referred to previous case law and outlined five principles that employers should consider. These principles provide guidance for assessing the proportionality of interference with freedom of religion, belief, and expression within an employment setting:

  • Foundational nature of rights: The emphasis that freedom of religion, belief, and expression are essential rights in any democracy, irrespective of the popularity of the belief or potential offense caused by its expression.
  • Qualified nature of rights: While these rights are protected, they can be limited or restricted when necessary to safeguard the rights and freedoms of others. Limitations are justified when they are objectively justified due to the objectionable manner of the manifestation or expression, not solely based on the exercise of the rights themselves.
  • Context-specific justifications: The assessment of whether a limitation or restriction is objectively justified will depend on the specific context, including the employment relationship. Different considerations will arise based on the nature of the employment.
  • To determine the proportionality of limitations, references the Bank Mellat case, which provides a framework for analysis. It involves considering:
    • the importance of the employer’s objective;
    • the rational connection between the limitation and the objective;
    • the possibility of employing a less intrusive limitation; and
    • the balancing of the severity of the limitation on the worker’s rights against the importance of the objective.
  • Relevant considerations within employment: Within the employment context, certain considerations are relevant, such as:
    • the content of the manifestation;
    • the tone used;
    • the extent of the manifestation;
    • the worker’s understanding of the likely audience;
    • the intrusion on the rights of others and its impact on the employer’s business;
    • clarification of whether the views expressed are personal or represent the employer’s views, posing a reputational risk;
    • potential power imbalances;
    • the nature of the employer’s business, especially if vulnerable service users or clients are affected; and
    • consideration of whether the limitation imposed is the least intrusive measure available.

Practical implications for employers

Conduct a thorough assessment: Employers must carefully assess the motivations behind their actions concerning an employee’s manifestation of religion or belief. Ensure that the concern is directed towards the manifestation rather than the belief itself.

Consider proportionality: When interfering with an employee’s right to freedom of religion, employers must carefully evaluate whether their actions are proportionate in light of the circumstances and objectives they aim to achieve.

Balance competing interests: Employers should conduct a fair and thorough balancing exercise, weighing the potential interference with the employee’s rights against their own legitimate objectives or justifiable objections.

Fact-specific analysis: Recognise that each case involving the manifestation of religion or belief is unique. Consider the specific facts, circumstances, and context surrounding the claim when assessing potential discrimination.

Seek legal advice: Discrimination cases can be complex, and their outcomes significantly impact both employees and employers. It is prudent to consult with legal professionals to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.


The Higgs -v- Farmor’s School case highlights the importance of understanding the nuances surrounding discrimination claims related to the manifestation of religion or belief. Employers must navigate these matters with care, considering the motivations behind their actions, proportionality, and the need for a fair balance between competing interests. By staying informed and seeking legal guidance when needed, employers can mitigate risks and promote an inclusive and respectful work environment for all employees.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting with one of our legal experts.


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