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Christian nurse takes crucifix row to tribunal

  • 33 Comments

A Christian nurse who claims she has been prevented from expressing her religious beliefs after being asked to remove a crucifix necklace is to be heard at an employment tribunal next week.

Shirley Chaplin was re-assigned to an office role when she refused to take off the necklace at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital last September.

She will begin her case for discrimination on religious grounds in her home city of Exeter.

The trust said the policy was administered due to health and safety fears about patients grabbing necklaces. It said the policy was nothing to do with the crucifix specifically.

The court must decide if her employer “subjected her to discrimination on grounds of her religion” after attempts to resolve the matter failed, the trust said.

Previously employed on the infection and isolation ward caring for the elderly and vulnerable, she has been redeployed to a nursing administration role.

That is “with full pay protection, pending ongoing attempts to find an acceptable compromise”, the trust added.

Lynn Lane, the trust’s human resources director, said: “For the trust, this has always been about compliance with our agreed uniform policy and the safety of staff and patients.

“Sadly, it appears that Mrs Chaplin may have been deflected from agreeing a sensible and pragmatic resolution of this dispute by the involvement of other parties outside the trust.”

  • 33 Comments

Readers' comments (33)

  • Peter Goble

    I think the Trust is right. A nurse's uniform is not a platform on which to advertise the wearer's personal beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be.

    Ostentation in any form does not become a professional nurse. I Know that's an old-fashioned view, but just because a view is old-fashioned doesn't make it invalid.

    My experience is that patients have confidence in nurses who look clean, neat, tidy and wear their uniform unadorned.

    As a patient I prefer nurses who don't wear excessive make-up, nail-varnish, personal jewellery, visible tattoos or perfume. I dislike the smell of stale tobacco too. I think my views are shared my a majority of patients.

    I've just retired after practising continuously for 53 years. I'm a man.

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  • If she wears the cross inside her uniform then that is fine. If there is some argument being made for it being an infection risk then I suggest we need to 'ban' wedding rings too...
    Also at my Trust many nurses wear lanyards with their ID card attached. If this is happening then it would have to be stopped too.

    A storm in a teacup really.

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  • I have worked in Healthcare for many years and have been in hospital as a patient. I am a Health and Safety Manager, I am not religious and Frankly I would not notice (or care) whether my carer or nurse was wearing a cross as long as the standards of care are not affected. As for the infection control argument it is unlikely that a cross on a chain is likely to come into contact with me or any other patient, the carer is unlikely to get that close. The size of the chain associated with a cross is unlikely to cause any damage to the wearer if it is snatched off, so there goes the 'elf 'n safety argument as well.

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  • Why does no one consider head scarves an infection risk? There not made from the same type of material as the uniforms, therefore absorb germs and the like.

    I think she's right to stand up for her rights. No one would do that to a muslim woman wearing a scarf.

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  • there seems to be confusion here over what the issues really are:
    If the Trust states in it's uniform policy that necklaces cannot be worn when in uniform, that's one thing, if they say that they cannot be visibly worn then that is another.
    The issue of infection control is nulified if the necklace is inside the uniform itself. Entrapment is another thing altogether. If an individual choses to wear a necklace he/she is aware of the risks involved and the employer can't be held liable provided they have given the appropriate advice.
    The religious issue is complete rot and is just being used to stir up feelings on the matter. Mrs Chaplin, there is no requirement in the Bible (or as far as I know any other Christian text) which states an individual must wear a crucifix ~ it's your choice....live with it!

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  • It is hardly unlikely she will win at a tribunal. If her employers have a good legal team they will site Eweida v British Airways Plc in which her appeal was dismissed. She was a devout Christian, it was found she had not suffered indirect religious discrimination by a uniform policy operated by her employer which prohibitied her from wearing a cross over her uniform.
    [2010] EWCA Civ 80


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  • Its about uniform policy, not religion. There is no way she will win he appeal.

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  • Anonymous | 29-Mar-2010 3:30 pm
    thankyou for clarifying the issues. There si an underlying assumption when religious issues enter a situation of moral highground and 'of course'-ness. This debate is about choice and even if it were a religious requirement there is still an imperative to question and challenge it. I wonder if anyone involved has really considered the potential impact of their actions on people in a vulnerable position?

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  • I agree with others if the uniform policy says no necklaces then that is that! Don't wear it. It doesn't make you a christian wearing a cross, in fact it is a form of idolatry; as someone says the Bible doesn't say wear any symbol of faith at all. I'm a christian and I don't wear one. The Bible says christians will be identified by their love for each other, nothing is mentioned about clothes, jewellery or any other form of identification. If the trust can offer a compromise - she wears a long chain which means her cross can't be seen or swing free then both sides win; otherwise she shouldn't wear it

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  • I had been a student nurse way back years ago late 80's and have graduated but hadn't been in nursing work up to the present but still have the plan to work..
    In my opinion during our nursing school we are taught that there will be no nail polish, only a short clean nails, a light make=up and no perfume, hairs are up
    if long hair with nurses cap on it, neat uniform well ironed, white shoes, and for jewelry a wedding band if married.
    And now it is up to the nurse whether she is aware what are the protocols of the hospital if there
    are any when it comes to jewelry like the
    necklace with a crucifix, yes i am a christian - catholic and have a necklace
    with crucifix owned by my late father
    but maybe for me i will not wear it while working also wedding band to prevent spread of infection, and what is really
    needed by a nurse only is a wristwatch with a second hand.
    If a nurse works in a office setting maybe
    necklaces are allowed and other jewelries as well as a clinical instructor but it depends..

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