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Employment Law Case Update: Suspending Employees

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Recently, a bus driver from Norwich was suspended from work while he is investigated under disciplinary policy for refusing to drive a bus with its number in rainbow colours.

Buses in the city displayed rainbow numbers to show support for Norwich LGBT Pride. The 501 had a rainbow number but the driver allegedly told passengers they had to wait for him to swap buses because “this bus promotes homosexuality and I refuse to drive it”.

It will be interesting to see how this case develops and whether this is taken further to a tribunal. The bus company must have reasonable grounds for the suspension or this could be unlawful and result in an unfair dismissal claim.

The case has similarities to the recent ‘Gay Cake Case’ where the owners of Ashers Bakery in 2014 said they would not bake a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” on it for Mr Lee because it was contrary to their religious beliefs. After four years, the Supreme Court reversed earlier decisions at Belfast County Court and Court of Appeal that Ashers had discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of him being gay.

The Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 found that the bakery did not refuse Lee’s order because of his sexual orientation so they ruled that there was no discrimination on those grounds. It found that the bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is different from obliging them to supply a cake with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.

However, Mr Lee’s lawyers are now arguing in the European Court of Human Rights that the Supreme Court ruling should be overturned because baking the cake did not imply that the bakery supports the message of the cake. The lawyers contend that no reasonable person would equate producing the cake for an individual private customer with the bakery supporting the pro-gay marriage message on it.

This case could have persuasive elements to the bus driver case.  However, it may be harder to distance the bus company from the pro-LGBT message than the bakery because the bus company, Go East Anglia, has been a supporter of pride since 2017 and has stated it does not condone the behaviour of the driver.  

If you need advice on how to conduct an investigation into potential employee misconduct, you can call our Employment team today on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

This was previously part of our weekly Employment Law Newsletter. If you would like to subscribe, please email us at events@warnergoodman.co.uk or click here for the subscription form.

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.