Firms warned against knee-jerk response

Discrimination

Employers have been warned not to act in haste against staff who have been exposed as British National Party (BNP) members, following the recent publication of a leaked BNP membership list on the internet.

Discrimination

The list includes the names, addresses and job details of around 12,000 people in the UK. Some members of the far–Right party have reported fears of a backlash at work, including the possibility of disciplinary action.

However, legal experts have cautioned against a knee–jerk response, and warned employers to tread carefully to avoid the risk of unfair dismissal or discrimination claims. Mark Higgins, employment law partner at law firm Ralli said:

“The starting point is that there is no automatic right to dismiss an employee for membership of a political party, in most occupations at least,”

Higgins added that different employers were likely to have different priorities when considering a course of action such as company reputation, customer reaction and potential damage to client relationships.

“The firm’s workforce will also be relevant if there are objections to working alongside the BNP member. In the interest of employee relations, the employer may need to determine whether or not the BNP member can continue working for them.” he said

Adele Aspden, associate practice lawyer at legal firm Eversheds warned that employers needed to be aware that staff with a year’s service or more would be protected against being unfairly dismissed.

“If an employee’s political activities have an impact on colleagues, customers or the local community, then it could be reasonable for an employer to take action.”

“But dismissing someone simply because they are a member of a political party such as the BNP is likely to be much more difficult to justify. An employer will be on firmer ground if membership of certain organisations is incompatible with the individual’s job and there is a clear policy spelling this out.”

“Even so, this is an extremely tricky legal area. Legislation prohibiting discrimination on grounds of belief could also catch employers out, and even data protection laws mean there could well be restrictions on how employers use any information taken from the BNP list. Before action is taken, it would be advisable to seek professional legal advice so that the risk of a claim is minimised.” said Aspden

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