Political correctness is driving people apart, not bringing them together — Christian Legal Centre
An Employment Tribunal has ruled that the employer of a senior occupational therapist in London was justified in disciplining her for giving a Christian book to a Muslim colleague.
Victoria Wasteney has worked as an occupational therapist at the East London NHS Foundation Trust for eight years and has an exemplary record.
However, she was accused of “harassing and bullying” her Muslim colleague for giving her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity.
And even though the colleague had given her consent, senior managers also told Miss Wasteney that she was wrong to pray with her and invite her to church events.
An internal disciplinary panel in February 2014 found her guilty of three charges of misconduct related to the accusations of “bullying and harassment” – praying with her colleague, giving her the book and inviting her to church events.
Miss Wasteney was suspended (on full pay) for nine months. She also had to accept a range of rulings designed to stop her discussing her faith and beliefs with colleagues.
The Employment Tribunal, which heard the case in January of this year, has now ruled that the Trust acted reasonably in how it dealt with the senior occupational therapist’s case.
The Tribunal’s ruling raises serious concerns that political correctness in the NHS is stifling ordinary conversations about faith.
“I conducted all my conversations with my colleague in a sensitive and appropriate way,” said Miss Wasteney.
“I knew she was from a different faith background and I was respectful of that. I didn’t force my beliefs on anyone at any point. Surely there should be room for mutual conversations about faith, where appropriate, in the workplace?
“I am extremely disappointed with the Tribunal’s decision to side with my employer. There is already an unnatural caginess around faith and belief which is an obstruction to building meaningful relationships in the workplace.
“This decision will only perpetuate that, to the detriment of working relationships in the NHS.”
“Walking on eggshells”
Miss Wasteney is supported by the Christian Legal Centre, whose chief executive, Andrea Williams, agrees that the decision is detrimental to healthy working relationships.
“Victoria has been punished and left out in the cold for being honest and open about her faith,” she said.
“Are these the kind of workplaces we want, where people are forced to hide their identity and the things that matter most to them? Such an environment is detrimental to meaningful working relationships and ultimately to productivity.
“With the general election fast approaching, what will political parties do about the place of Christianity in the workplace, particularly in the NHS?
“The current ‘equality and diversity’ framework is having the opposite effect to what was intended. It is driving different people apart, not bringing them together, by breeding an atmosphere of mistrust in which people constantly feel as if they are walking on eggshells.
“Victoria’s case clearly demonstrates this. What will our politicians do to restore trust in the workplace?”