Legal update: expressing religious beliefs

In this month's legal update, we look at a recent case in which a nurse was dismissed for expressing her religious beliefs inappropriately at work

Was the dismissal of a nurse who expressed her Christian views at work fair?

This issue was recently considered by the Court of Appeal in the case of Kuteh v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust. 

Ms. Kuteh was a nurse employed by the trust. She was dismissed for gross misconduct as a result of initiating inappropriate conversations with patients about religion. 

As part of her role, Ms. Kuteh was required to ask about patients’ religion but there was no requirement for her to enter into any further discussion about religion with them. However, patients complained that she did so repeatedly. 

Ms. Kuteh’s employer raised the complaints with her and she agreed to refrain from discussing religion with patients. Despite this, further complaints were received by the trust and Ms. Kuteh was subsequently dismissed. 

Here dismissal was on the basis that she had failed to follow a reasonable management instruction not to engage in religious discussions with patients, that inappropriate behaviour had been repeated, and that she had breached the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Code which states that registered nurses must not express their personal beliefs in an inappropriate way.   

Ms. Kuteh pursued an unfair dismissal claim and also alleged that her human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, had been infringed. 

The Employment Tribunal found that the investigation leading up to Ms. Kuteh’s disciplinary hearing had been entirely fair and reasonable and that the decision to dismiss her was a reasonable response.

In respect of her allegation that her human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion had been infringed, the Employment Tribunal said there was a distinction between inappropriately proselytising (advocating or promoting) beliefs and being prevented from manifesting them, and that Ms. Kuteh’s conduct fell into the category of proselytising.

Ms. Kuteh sought to appeal the decision to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, and when this was refused, the Court of Appeal. That appeal was also dismissed.

The judgment in this case is a cautionary reminder that members must adhere to the terms of the NMC Code regarding the expression of their personal beliefs including their political, religious or moral beliefs.

Joanne Galbraith-Marten
RCN Head of Legal (Employment)

More information

For more information about the NMC code, visit the NMC website.

For more information about the RCN legal team, visit our legal support webpages.

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