News

Nurse ‘bullied’ for wearing cross wins unfair dismissal case

Christian nurse was treated unfairly by Croydon NHS trust when she felt forced to quit her job after refusing to hide symbol of faith at work
Christian nurse Mary Onuoha, who was unfairly dismissed by NHS trust in Croydon for wearing a visible cross at work

Tribunal said employer's policy on uniforms was arbitrary after managers insisted nurse Mary Onuoha could not allow her necklace to be visible at work

A Christian nurse who claimed she was discriminated against for wearing a cross at work has won her case for unfair dismissal.

Mary Onuoha, a theatre practitioner at Croydon University Hospital in London, said she was bullied and harassed for refusing to remove her necklace in 2018.

But an employment tribunal has ruled Croydon Health Services NHS Trust discriminated against and harassed Ms Onuoha over her refusal to remove the jewellery. The trust told her the necklace was a safety risk and must not be outwardly visible.

Ms Onuoha, supported by

Tribunal said employer's policy on uniforms was arbitrary after managers insisted nurse Mary Onuoha could not allow her necklace to be visible at work

Christian nurse Mary Onuoha, who was unfairly dismissed by NHS trust in Croydon for wearing a visible cross at work
Mary Onuoha Picture: Christian Concern

A Christian nurse who claimed she was discriminated against for wearing a cross at work has won her case for unfair dismissal.

Mary Onuoha, a theatre practitioner at Croydon University Hospital in London, said she was bullied and harassed for refusing to remove her necklace in 2018.

But an employment tribunal has ruled Croydon Health Services NHS Trust discriminated against and harassed Ms Onuoha over her refusal to remove the jewellery. The trust told her the necklace was a safety risk and must not be outwardly visible.

Ms Onuoha, supported by Christian Legal Centre, said she had worked at the hospital for 13 years before being asked to remove the symbol.

NHS trust’s arbitrary uniform policy

The tribunal found the employer’s uniform policy arbitrary, with many staff allowed to wear necklaces and other religious symbols were permitted.

Following the ruling, Christian Legal Centre chief executive Andrea Williams said the trust’s interpretation of uniform guidance had led to a campaign of harassment against a devoted, experienced, and highly professional nurse, who was in effect hounded out of the NHS.

‘Our uniform policy has been updated with the support of staff and trade unions to ensure it is sensitive to religious and cultural needs, while maintaining effective infection prevention and control measures’

Croydon Health Services NHS Trust spokesperson

The tribunal heard that from 2015, several managers asked Ms Onuoha to remove or conceal her cross because the necklace could cause injury or infection.

Ms Onuoha said she was investigated and suspended from clinical duties when she refused to remove the item and she was demoted to receptionist duties. In June 2020, she went off work with stress and said she felt she had no alternative but to resign.

The tribunal found Ms Onuoha was constructively dismissed and the dismissal was unfair, stating the trust’s conduct amounted to a repudiatory breach of contract.

Ms Onuoha’s legal representatives said their client was delighted.

Cultural inclusion and infection prevention

In a statement, the trust apologised to Ms Onuoha and said it had reviewed its uniform policy, and would do so again in light of the judgement.

A spokesperson said: ‘It is important NHS staff feel able to express their beliefs, and our policies are applied in a consistent, compassionate and inclusive way.

‘Since this matter, our dress code and uniform policy has been updated with the support of the staff networks and trade unions to ensure it is inclusive and sensitive to all religious and cultural needs, while maintaining effective infection prevention and control measures and protecting the safety of patients and staff.’


In other news

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Unlock full access to RCNi Plus today

Save over 50% on your first three months:

  • Customisable clinical dashboard featuring 200+ topics
  • Unlimited online access to all 10 RCNi Journals including Nursing Management
  • RCNi Learning featuring 180+ RCN accredited learning modules
  • NMC-compliant RCNi Portfolio to build evidence for revalidation
  • Personalised newsletters tailored to your interests

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs