National security prevails

Posted: 20th November 2015

EATThose employed in sensitive government jobs should take note of an unusual case in which a chess master and computer security expert was refused employment at top secret intelligence base GCHQ after stating that, if forced to choose, his devotion to God would outweigh his loyalty to his country.

The man had gone through a gruelling screening process at the base before he was turned down for national security reasons. He had revealed the intensity of his devout Christian beliefs and GCHQ had also learned from his medical records that he had suffered a drug induced psychosis almost 20 years earlier. He admitted to having taken recreational drugs for nine months, but said that he had put such youthful dabbling behind him and was psychologically fit and well.

An Employment Tribunal (ET) later accepted that GCHQ’s security concerns were in part related to the man’s historic mental disability and his religious convictions. However, in dismissing his discrimination claims, it ruled that they were not the overriding reasons for his rejection. GCHQ's published policy was that it would rarely consider job applicants who had ever suffered bipolar disorder or a psychotic illness. However, the ET accepted that that did not amount to a blanket ban.

In dismissing the man’s challenge to that decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) found that GCHQ's security concerns were separate and distinct from the man’s past disability. His religious beliefs were of no concern in themselves, but GCHQ was entitled to conclude that the effect those beliefs might have on his behaviour and judgment in the workplace did raise national security issues.