LONDON — An occupational therapist who was suspended from her job for nine months after her Muslim co-worker alleged that she was trying to convert her to Christianity has lost her appeal before an employment tribunal.
As previously reported, Victoria Wasteney, now 39, had developed a friendship with her colleague Enya Nawaz, now 28, as they worked at the St. John Howard Center in London. The two had discussed Islam and Christianity, and Wasteney had talked to Nawaz about her church’s efforts to fight human trafficking.
“The whole basis of our conversations around faith started with her telling me that she’d had an encounter with God, that she felt she had been brought to London for a particular reason,” Wasteney told reporters.
“We were both interested in what one another were involved in,” she said. “It was part of the normal process of building a relationship with someone, to talk about primarily things we were interested in outside of work.”
In 2013, after Nawaz told Wasteney about her personal health concerns on a lunch break, Wasteney offered to pray for her. Nawaz replied, “Okay,” and Wasteney laid hands on her and prayed that God would give her “peace and healing.”
Wastney also invited her co-worker to church and gave her a copy of the book “I Dared to Call Him Father,” which is about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. Wasteney said that she had never read the book, but that it had been recommended by a friend.
“Because we had had these conversations, it did not seem abnormal,” she explained.
But Nawaz soon lodged a complaint with her employer, alleging that Wasteney was trying to convert her. Wasteney was consequently suspended for nine months with pay while an investigation was conducted into the matter.
In 2014, while dismissing several other accusations, a disciplinary panel declared Wasteney guilty of “bullying and harassment,” stating that she was wrong to pray with her co-worker, invite her to church and give her a book about her faith. She was presented with a written warning and allowed to return to work—but not in her specialist field.
The matter then was appealed to an employment tribunal out of an effort to draw awareness to concerns over those who might face discipline for speaking about their faith in the workplace. But the tribunal upheld the panel’s ruling, stating that it dealt properly with the situation.
Wasteney was granted permission to appeal the decision, but on Thursday, Judge Eady QC agreed that Wasteney’s employer was right to discipline her.
“What the court clearly failed to do was to say how, in today’s politically correct world, any Christian can even enter into a conversation with a fellow employee on the subject of religion and not, potentially, later end up in an employment tribunal,” Wasteney said in a statement. “If someone sends you friendly text messages, how is one to know that they are offended? I had no idea that I was upsetting her.”
She provided an example of a text that she received from Nawaz.
“Hope you’re okay, Victoria. You’re an amazing manager and a wonderful person. I hope you never feel otherwise!” it read.
“I believe the NHS singled me out for discipline because Christianity is so disrespected,” Wasteney said. “Previously a Christian worship service that I set up for patients was closed down, but accommodation for Muslims to practice their faith wholly facilitated and encouraged.”