Skip to main content
Insight

No right to wear a poppy

11/11/2011
Today the majority of people in the UK will wear a poppy and respect a two minute silence in remembrance of those who died in service of their country. The right to wear a poppy has been the subject Today the majority of people in the UK will wear a poppy and respect a two minute silence in remembrance of those who died in service of their country. The right to wear a poppy has been the subject of intense media coverage, in particular, in relation to FIFA's initial decision to ban the English football team from wearing a poppy on their shirt. FIFA bans political, religious and commercial messages on shirts. The Prime Minister has stated that "the idea that wearing a poppy to remember those who have given their lives for freedom is a political act is absurd". A compromise has now been reached with FIFA. But is the belief that you should be able to wear a poppy a religious or philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010?

In Northern Ireland the issue of wearing a poppy is a particularly sensitive issue. A manager of a Poundland store asked an employee to remove a poppy prompting a storm of protest, not quite on the scale we have seen in relation to FIFA, perhaps dissipated by Poundland's prompt decision to allow all employees to wear a poppy with their uniform.

However, an Employment Tribunal has now held in the case of Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd and others that an ex-serviceman's belief that "we should pay our respects to those who have given their lives for us by wearing a poppy from All Souls' Day on 2 November to Remembrance Day" was not protected under the Equality Act. Since the Grainger case, in which the EAT held that a belief in man made climate change was a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act, the Employment Tribunals have explored the limits of what is meant by a philosophical belief, finding that an anti hunting belief and a belief in the higher purpose of public service broadcasting to be protected under the Equality Act. The decision in Lisk will no doubt cause controversy, but it could mark the start of the pendulum swinging back towards a more narrow interpretation of a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act.

Wearing religious, philosophical or other symbols in the workplace is a difficult and sensitive issue for employers to negotiate. However, a pragmatic common sense approach such as that demonstrated by FIFA and Poundland can often resolve matters without recourse to an Employment Tribunal.

Sign up to our email digest

Click to subscribe or manage your email preferences.

SUBSCRIBE