Free speech row | Firm taken to tribunal after pulling job offer over candidate's LGBT+ social media posts

Firm taken to tribunal after pulling job offer over candidate's LGBT+ social media posts

An employer withdrew a job offer after discovering the candidate’s views on LGBT+ issues, which resulted in the individual winning a landmark legal case.

Felix Ngole had accepted a ‘dream job’ as a Mental Health Support Worker at Touchstone Support, and the onboarding process had progressed to the point that the dad-of-three had been given a start date.

The role would have involved working at Wakefield Hospital to manage the discharge of patients with mental health conditions into the community. But after Kathryn Hart, Touchstone’s deputy chief executive and HR Director, discovered online articles about Ngole’s previous legal case, the offer was withdrawn.

Ngole, a devout Christian, previously won a landmark free speech battle challenging the University of Sheffield’s decision to expel him for Facebook comments regarding same-sex marriage.  He was later reinstated to the course after the Court of Appeal ruled that his personal beliefs would not cause him to discriminate against anyone in his line of work.

Ngole was told by Touchstone Support that, unless he could demonstrate he would ‘embrace and promote homosexual rights’ at the organisation, the job offer would be withdrawn.

“I was offered the job and they were already talking to me about my first day and who my line manager would be,” Ngole said. 

“When I received the email telling me that the job had been withdrawn it was a shock. I was very confused and distraught, and I wanted to know why.

“The reasons they gave for withdrawing the job offer were an attack on me and my faith.”

Ngole added: “It is untenable for employers to be allowed to discriminate against Christian beliefs in this way and to force individuals to promote an ideology that goes against their conscience in the workplace.”

He is now launching an employment tribunal appeal process against Touchstone Support.

A spokesperson for Touchstone Support said: “It would be inappropriate to comment further because the allegations have not yet been tested in the legal proceedings.”

Where does HR stand on free speech?

Freedom of speech in the UK workplace is a difficult issue to deal with.

The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) indicates that individuals have the right to freedom of expression. This, however, does come with restrictions—hate speech, for example, is not tolerated. The Employment Equality Regulations and the Equality Act 2010 provide protection for individuals in the event of treatment that’s considered unfair.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression laws are, at their core, designed to protect British citizens from legal repercussions.

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But working environments are a different beast. Employees are subject to rules and regulations that don’t affect them in their private lives, including being expected to uphold a certain level of professionalism and respect.

Below, HR and health & safety experts Peninsula Group provide several areas of key information on the law surrounding freedom of expression, and how HR should approach it in the workplace.

Peninsula’s website states: “It’s your responsibility to manage remarks that are commonly viewed as careless, provocative, or hate speech. You must remember the relationship between you and your staff isn’t equal. You have the right to indicate the conduct you expect in your workplace.

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“As a result, if an employee expresses an opinion that is defamatory, discriminatory, or offensive then this could lead to disciplinary action against the offending employee. Your code of conduct may, for example, state that offensive remarks aren’t tolerated.”

Peninsula’s guide continues: “The offended individual may also want to raise a grievance. Other behaviour to keep in mind includes, as another example, attempting to place religious views on another person. This is often viewed as harassment and, again, this might lead to disciplinary action.”

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