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Employment Law Case Update: Kuteh v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust

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In the case of Kuteh v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust, the claimant was a committed Christian employed by the Trust as a nurse. In 2012 the claimant was promoted to ‘Sister’ and then in 2015 was transferred to a position which required her to carry out between six and 12 pre-assessment checks on patients due to undergo surgery. A standard checklist was used for these checks and it included a question on the patient’s religion.

In 2016 it was bought to the claimant’s manager’s attention that patients had been complaining that Ms Kuteh was raising issues of religion and faith with them in the pre-assessment checks. Some of these complaints included that the claimant has ‘preached’ to them and one patient had been told by Ms Kuteh that if he prayed he would have a better chance of survival from the cancer surgery he was due to have.

The claimant was informed that these discussions were inappropriate and she should not have any further discussions of this nature with the patients. The claimant agreed to this, however two further complaints were made in the following month. A disciplinary investigation meeting was arranged and in the meantime a further complaint was raised.

In the investigatory meeting the claimant accepted she was made aware not to discuss religion with patients but she asserted that this was unreasonable. However she did agree that this could be inappropriate and admitted to failing to follow management instructions. A disciplinary hearing followed on from this and the claimant was ultimately dismissed for failing to follow the reasonable management instruction, inappropriate conduct in discussing the topic of religion with patients and breaching the nursing and midwifery code in expressing her personal beliefs inappropriately.

Ms Kuteh bought a claim for unfair dismissal and asserted that her right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached. The tribunal found that the dismissal was fair. There had been a fair investigation into the allegations and a fair hearing.

This case shows that employers should be aware of employees expressing personal opinions on their religious or philosophical beliefs in the workplace. However, religion or philosophical belief is a protected characteristic under discrimination law so employers should be wary when investigating expressions of that religion or belief by the employee. 

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.