Polly Jones, (UNISON member) was dismissed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) after she told her former boss that she wanted to stand for election to the Westminster parliament.
Polly was legally represented by her trade union UNISON who say her case may open the door to many other employees such as civil servants and council officials who may want to stand for election but whose contracts currently bar them from doing so.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) made a key ruling that ‘participation in democracy’ is a philosophical belief, which is protected under equality legislation. Polly has decided to speak out publicly in a bid to highlight workplace barriers which can face people who hope to become MPs or MSPs and, hopefully encourage under-represented groups to get involved in politics.
Polly has donated her full settlement amount to three organisations: UNISON’s There for You welfare charity, Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, and Refuweegee, a community-led charity which gives a warm welcome to people forced to flee their homes.
Polly Jones, UNISON member said: “I am delighted my case has wider implications. It protects us all from employers that want to restrict broader political activity outside work whether that’s campaigning, or simply being involved in a political party. Three tribunal appearances and three long years later, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has determined that my belief in participatory democracy was protected by equality laws. I am grateful to UNISON and Thompsons Solicitors who provided me with the means to challenge an injustice.
“It was a horrific experience and I felt it was deeply unfair. As it was a pretty normal thing to want to do in the kind of organisations I work for. I thought it would all be fine, I hadn’t done anything wrong. My advice is to join a union. You never know when you will need it. ”
Karen Osborne, UNISON Scotland’s legal officer said: “UNISON want to thank Polly for sticking with us. Polly’s case means that if a worker is dismissed or suffers a detriment because they have requested permission to stand for election, or in some other way demonstrated their belief in participatory democracy, they can bring a discrimination claim under the Equality Act as this belief is now a protected belief.”
Polly’s case will have far reaching consequences particularly in the public sector where many employees in Scotland have contracts which restrict them from taking part in party political activity. Civil servants and local government employees, as well as many in the charitable sector, should now be allowed to stand for election and take part in public political activity.
Through principle and determination Polly has set a legal precedent which has opened the door to more candidates, who may otherwise have been deterred from standing due to the risk to their employment. We hope this decision will ensure that the pool of candidates better reflect our communities in Scotland and encourages more candidates from underrepresented groups, to stand.
Karen Osborne also said: “As highlighted in the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision, belief in participatory democracy is a belief that relates to a crucial aspect of the form of government exercised in the UK and without adequate engagement by candidates from among the electorate, democracy as a mode of government would lose its legitimacy.”
Polly is a member of UNISON the public services trade union. UNISON is the largest union in Scotland representing members across local government, health, education, utilities, energy , police staff and community and voluntary sector.
UNISON worked with Thompsons Solicitors to help take a case against the SFHA. As she had not worked for the SFHA for two years she did not meet the usual length of service which entitles people to take a case of unfair dismissal. However, a legal exception exists for people to take a case against their employer if they believe they have been sacked for their political beliefs. Thompsons argued that it should be unlawful for an employer to dismiss someone for wanting to stand as a parliamentary candidate as this was a vital democratic role.
The case was heard before an employment tribunal in November 2020 with the court sitting virtually, because of Covid restrictions. Ms Jones gave evidence from her home. The SFHA challenged the decision with an appeal tribunal held in January 2022. A judgment on the case was published in July 2022.
The ruling, published on December 2020, said: “The claimant has a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010, specifically that “those with the relevant skills, ability and passion should participate in the democratic process”.
Judge Lord Summers accepted that “but for her candidacy for Scottish Labour she would not have been dismissed. In that sense her dismissal is related to her opinions and affiliation.”
A settlement has recently been reached which allowed her to speak about the case and she has donated the money she received to three groups helping those in need.
Danny Phillips Communications officer 07944664110 / 07717715277