' Occupational Therapist


Christian NHS worker disciplined for giving book to colleague seeks appeal

A senior occupational therapist who was disciplined for giving a Christian book to a Muslim colleague will tomorrow (5th Oct) seek permission to appeal an Employment Tribunal ruling against her. 

In April, the Employment Tribunal ruled that East London NHS Foundation Trust acted reasonably in disciplining Miss Wasteney for praying (with consent) for her colleague, handing her a Christian book and inviting her to church events.The NHS disciplined her for harassment.

Lawyers acting for Miss Wasteney will tomorrow seek permission to appeal the ruling, citing fundamental rights of freedom of expression and of religion. 

The treatment of Miss Wasteney has raised serious concerns that political correctness in the NHS is stifling ordinary conversations about faith and damaging the development of healthy working relationships.

'Harassing and bullying'

Victoria Wasteney has worked as an occupational therapist at the East London NHS Foundation Trust for over 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. Various measures designed to stop her discussing her faith and beliefs with colleagues were also imposed upon her.

The case raises concerns about the ability of an employer to censor employee's speech. 

In April this year, however, the Employment Tribunal ruled that the Trust acted reasonably in its handling of Miss Wasteney's case.

'Detrimental to normal working relationships'

“I conducted all my conversations with my colleague in a sensitive and appropriate way,” Miss Wasteney said at the time of the ruling.

“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?

"A complaint was made against me by someone who left the job the following month and who did not attend the NHS trust's disciplinary hearing or the Employment Tribunal.  Evidence from text messages shows that we had a friendly relationship.  I believe that the complaint has been handled in the way that it has because I am a Christian.

“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.”

'Forced to hide identity'

Miss Wasteney is supported by the Christian Legal Centre, whose chief executive, Andrea Williams, argues that the treatment of Miss Wasteney highlights an unnecessary restriction of religious freedom and is detrimental to the fostering of healthy relationships in the workplace..

Andrea Williams “Victoria has been punished and left out in the cold for being honest and open about her faith and highlights an unhealthy trend” Andrea Williams said. 

“Do we want to be left with working environments where people are forced to hide their identity and the things that matter most to them? Such environments are detrimental to meaningful working relationships and ultimately to productivity.

“Victoria’s case underlines that 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."