When It All Kicks Off – Is Supporting a Football Team Considered a Philosophical Belief?

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You may have seen a recent Tribunal case involving Mr McClung – a subcontractor, and importantly for this Tribunal case, a lifelong Glasgow Rangers fan. He alleged that a manager, who was a Celtic fan, did not offer him later work due to his support of the rival Glasgow team.

What’s Considered a ‘Philosophical Belief’?

This is not the first time I have heard similar tales, and not just in Tribunal judgments. In Bob Mortimer’s brilliant autobiography, ‘And Away’, he wrote about his time in a chicken abattoir/processing plant. He was wearing the shirt of his beloved Middlesbrough and was given the worst job in the plant (it’s too stomach churning to go into the details) because his manager was a supporter of a local rival. This sort of thing does happen.

Mr McClung claimed that his support of Rangers was so strong and such an intrinsic part of his existence that it was akin to a philosophical belief. To meet the ‘philosophical belief’ threshold, a person’s belief must be:

  • genuinely held
  • not an opinion or viewpoint
  • must be a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • must have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and must not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

The Tribunal found Mr McClung met the first test but not the others.

I am not sure I agree with this decision, Mr McClung told the tribunal hearing that supporting Rangers is a way of life and it was as important to him as it was for Christians to attend church. I think there was probably an element of the Tribunal not wanting to open the floodgates to other similar claims.

Resolving Differences in Opinion

Importantly, just because his passion for Rangers has been found to technically not amount to a protected characteristic, it is still worth considering what the company could have done differently.

If it did identify that there was tension between a manager and subcontractor would it not have been better to try to get them to work together and to put aside any differences? You don’t necessarily need them to be best friends, just to be able to work together. These things can be achieved.

If the company had taken steps to manage the conflict it could have meant that the two people could have carried on working together and avoided a time consuming and expensive Tribunal claim. No doubt both sides would have paid their own legal costs and so the company’s ‘victory’ would still have come at a substantial cost. That might all have been avoided with better, more proactive management of this situation.

For specialist HR support with managing conflict in the workplace, please get in touch with Simon Martin on 07384 813076 in our team.