The planting of a counterfeit bomb at a railway station in order to test the response of employees was the focus of an unusual case in which the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) considered the nature of harassment.
The bogus device was planted by a contractor working for the railway’s operator. It consisted of a carrier bag containing a cardboard box and some electric cabling. At the top of the bag was placed a piece of paper bearing the words ‘Allahu Akbar’. That phrase, which translates as ‘Allah is Greater’, is of immense religious significance to Muslims.
A Muslim who worked at the station lodged Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings against the contractor and the employer asserting, amongst other things, that the use of the phrase amounted to harassment. Although he had no complaint about the deployment of suspect packages as a means of testing security responses, he argued that the use of the phrase promoted a stereotypical view of Muslims and illegitimately associated the sacred words of Islam with a terrorist threat.
The ET acknowledged that the use of the phrase was unwanted and that it related to the man’s religion. In rejecting the harassment complaint, however, it found that it was not reasonable for him to have taken offence. The phrase had regrettably been used in connection with a number of previous terrorist attacks and was employed to reinforce the suspicious nature of the package. He should have realised that the contractor was not seeking to associate Islam with terrorism.
Ruling on his challenge to that outcome, the EAT emphasised that the vast majority of Muslims do not behave as terrorists do, or support their actions, and that it is wrong to tarnish the majority and the Muslim religion by association. It appreciated the strength of the man’s feelings and noted that, in response to his complaint, the contractor had ceased using religious phrases in security exercises.
In rejecting his appeal, however, the EAT detected no perversity or logical flaw in the ET’s conclusion. The evidence did not point to an inevitable conclusion that the contractor’s conduct amounted to egregious and fundamentally misconceived stereotyping. The decision was adequately explained and the question of whether the man had reasonably taken offence was quintessentially one for the ET to answer.