Thursday, September 24, 2009

Christian nurse files for discrimination over cross necklace request

A Christian nurse facing disciplinary action for refusing to remove her cross necklace at work has filed for discrimination.

The Christian Legal Centre said Shirley Chaplin, 54, was told by bosses at the Royal Devon and Exeter Trust Hospital to either accept redeployment to a non-nursing role or face the sack.

The Trust had ordered Mrs Chaplin to remove the necklace on the grounds that it breached uniform policy and was a health risk to her and the patients.

Mrs Chaplin said that no one had ever made a complaint against her for wearing the item and that there was no record of any accident being caused by a necklace in her 30 years of nursing. She also complained that other staff members had been photographed wearing necklaces.

Mrs Chaplin believes the demand to remove her necklace is nothing to do with health and safety but rather an infringement of her human rights.

“This blatant piece of political correctness amounts to the marginalising of employees’ personal human rights, a blanket ‘secularising and neutralising’ of the NHS intended to stop Christians from expressing their faith in the public services of the NHS … My Christian faith is what motivates me to care for others,” she said.

In a statement, the Trust confirmed that its uniform policy did not allow necklaces for health and safety reasons. It added that health and safety concerns also made it unsuitable for crucifix to be pinned onto the front of a uniform lapel but could be pinned inside the lapel or pocket.

"We have a duty of care towards our patients and our staff, and the Trust considers the wearing of a necklace to be a risk, albeit small, within a clinical setting because patients, particularly those who may be confused, do sometimes grab for items when being moved," the Trust said.

"This policy was adopted after it was reviewed about 18 months ago with staff and union representatives. This is the first time a member of staff has not co-operated with a request to comply with this policy but no disciplinary action has been taken because we have endeavoured to be sensitive to personal choice, even when not a requirement of faith and when it does not comply with Trust policy for all staff.

"If a member of staff asked if they could wear a crucifix pinned on their uniform lapel this would not comply with the same policy for the same reasons but it would be acceptable to wear it if pinned inside their uniform lapel or pocket.

"We accept lapses on uniform policy may occur among our 6,000 hospital staff and line mangers are expected to address it with the individual employee."

Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and director of the Christian Legal Centre which is supporting Mrs Chaplin in her case said: “A nurse who has faithfully served members of the public in Exeter with her professional skills was forced, under duress, to agree to stand down from nursing and take up an administrative role, all because the Trust would not permit her to wear a cross, the world-wide, recognised and cherished image of Christianity.

“Mrs Chaplin was left with no option other than to accept, but has today instructed us to file for action at the Employment Tribunal for discrimination by her employers.”

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