LONDON — An employment tribunal in the United Kingdom has ruled against an occupational therapist who was suspended for nine months after her Muslim co-worker alleged that she was trying to convert her.
Victoria Wasteney, 38, had developed a friendship with her colleague Enya Nawaz, 27, 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.
Last year, 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.
“I’m not particularly fighting for myself,” Wasteney told Christian Today. “This needs to be something that’s talked about. … I prayed with this girl in my lunchtime and I nearly lost my job over it.”
But this week, the tribunal upheld the panel’s ruling, stating that it dealt properly with the situation. According to reports, attorneys for Wasteney had argued that the European Convention on Human Rights “enshrines the freedom to be able to speak about faith in the workplace and not be disciplined for it.”
Wasteney said that she is disappointed in the outcome.
“I knew she was from a different faith background and I was respectful of that. I didn’t force my beliefs on anyone at any point. Surely there should be room for mutual conversations about faith, where appropriate, in the workplace?” she said in a statement on Wednesday.
“I am extremely disappointed with the tribunal’s decision to side with my employer,” Wasteney continued. “There is already an unnatural caginess around faith and belief which is an obstruction to building meaningful relationships in the workplace.”