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Just Stop Oil protests “impaired” doctor’s ability to practise

"How could my patients trust me again, if I didn’t take action to confront the greatest health crisis we face?" Benn asked

Doctor Sarah Benn had an “impaired” ability to practise after she took part in a number of Just Stop Oil protests, a medical tribunal found. 

In 2022, Benn attended three Just Stop Oil protests outside the Kingsbury oil terminal, where an injunction had been granted against people engaging in climate change protests.

Benn was subsequently arrested and spent 32 days in prison.

The General Medical Council (GMC) said the medical tribunal proceedings were a reaction to the legal ramifications of Benn’s involvement in the protests, rather than the involvement itself.

Benn told the BBC that she took part in the protests as climate change is the "biggest health crisis we face", and that her patients would not trust her if she didn't take action to confront it.

The tribunal outcome was reported as Google fired 28 employees who had engaged in protests against the company’s contract with the Israeli government. 

Four Google employees were arrested by police for trespassing at the Google New York office. Five were arrested in the Sunnydale, California office. This was among around 50 protestors at the New York office and 80 at the California office.

Google stated that the employees who had been fired were in violation of their policies by preventing other employees from accessing the building and impeding their work.

Read more: UK professionals divided on political conversations at work

Ruth Cornish, founder and director of HR consultancy Amelore, explained that HR should be clear that employees can take part in peaceful protests as long as they don't bring these views to the workplace.

She told HR magazine: "HR should be clear that if employees want to take part in peaceful protests about matters they feel strongly about or want to support, it is entirely up to them.

"However bringing any views into the workplace which may cause offence to others who could hold different views, needs to be avoided."

She noted that employers could fire employees who had broken the law while protesting.

Cornish added: "HR should be clear with employees that taking part in protests that break the law may result in disciplinary action against them, which could include the termination of their employment, particularly when they are stopping others working and openly protesting against their own employer in a public manner.

"Employers need to be very clear about what is and is not acceptable behaviour and any consequences. Breaking the law clearly crosses a line."

Read more: Do I have the right to free speech at work?

Caroline Walsh, managing vice president at Garnter HR Practice, explained that HR could introduce expression policies to manage employees’ political expression.

She told HR magazine: “Expression policies help to ensure a safe and productive work environment for all. At organisations with political expression policies, over 75% of employees agree with them, so such policies are popular with employees.

“There are key steps to creating such policies. This includes specific goals, prohibiting certain activities, language and behaviours, and laying out what disciplinary action will be taken if the policy is broken.”

But Walsh added that employers should not attempt to shut down employees political expression altogether.

She continued: “Attempting to shut down all forms of expression is ineffective, so they must consider which expressions will have the greatest impact on the workplace and organisation.

“Importantly, leaders will also align policies to organisational values, so the breaking of policies would not align to their values, and they must consistently enforce and manage these policies.”