Political opinion dismissal case study
In the case of Scottish Federation of Housing Associations v Polly Jones  EAT 114, the EAT established that where an employee is dismissed for not being politically neutral, their dismissal cannot be deemed related to political opinion or affiliation.
Ms Jones (the Claimant) was employed as Head of Membership and Policy by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (the Respondent). A term in her employment contract barred her from holding any formal roles of a political nature. This restriction was in keeping with the Respondent’s goal of being a politically neutral organisation.
In October 2019, the Claimant asked the Respondent for permission to stand for Scottish Labour in her constituency at the next general election. The Respondent refused and the Claimant didn’t stand. The following month, the Claimant was dismissed for reasons the Respondent said were unrelated to her intention to stand for election. The Claimant said the true reason for the dismissal was just that.
Because the Claimant did not have the required 2 years of service to bring a claim for unfair dismissal, she sought to rely on an exemption under section 108 (4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) which states that 2 years’ service is not required for an unfair dismissal claim where the dismissal ‘relates to’ the employee’s political opinions or affiliations.
The Employment Tribunal held that, provided the Claimant could show she had been dismissed because of her intention to stand for election, she could rely on the ERA provision. In other words, she was free to bring the claim. The ET came to this conclusion by interpreting the words ‘relates to’ within the provision to mean that, regardless of the fact her political opinions had nothing directly to do with her dismissal, they were related to the dismissal in that without such political opinions she wouldn’t have tried to stand for election. The Respondent appealed this decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
The EAT, in a judgment handed down on 26 July 2022, took a different approach and interpreted the ERA provision in light of the ‘mischief’, or issue, the legislation in which it is contained is intended to address. The EAT said the issue intended to be addressed was the possibility of dismissals arising from the content of a person’s political opinion or the identity of the party with which the person is affiliated. In Ms Jones’ case, the EAT decided that these were not reasons for her dismissal, but that she was dismissed because she lacked political neutrality and that neutrality is the exact opposite of the issues addressed by the ERA provision.
The EAT’s decision distils the scope of the section 108 (4) exemption and narrows the avenue through which an unfair dismissal claim can be brought for employees with fewer than 2 years’ service. All in all, it represents welcome news for employers.
You can find a link to the judgment here.
This post was written by Jack Dooley, Trainee Solicitor at didlaw.