Monday, February 1, 2010

United Kingdom

Environmentalism protected by discrimination legislation

By Christina Morton

Withers LLP

The UK’s Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that a belief in man-made climate change is capable of being a philosophical belief protected by the UK’s Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (‘the Regulations’). 

The EAT also set out helpful guidelines on what constitutes a ‘philosophical belief’ as opposed to a conventional religious belief. In the case in question, Grainger Plc and Ors v Nicholson, the EAT held that Mr Nicholson’s belief that carbon emissions must be cut to avoid catastrophic climate change, was capable of being a protected philosophical belief, if it was genuinely held and of a similar cogency or status to a religious belief.

Grainger plc claimed that Mr Nicholson’s employment was terminated on grounds of redundancy; Mr Nicholson claimed that his dismissal was unfair and that he was discriminated against because of the environmentalist beliefs he had asserted. He said these were not merely opinion but amounted to a philosophical belief that affected how he lived his life including his choice of home, how he travelled, what he bought, ate and drank and what he did with his waste. He claimed that Grainger’s Chief Executive showed contempt for his concerns.

The EAT agreed with the first instance employment tribunal that Mr Nicholson’s beliefs led to him adopting a code of conduct similar in some respects to those of established religions. It rejected Grainger Plc’s argument that limits should be placed upon what could amount to a philosophical belief protected by law. Instead it set out the following guidelines:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief and not simply an opinion or viewpoint
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance analogous to that of a religious belief.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others (as would racism or homophobia).
  • It does not have to be a belief shared by others.
  • It could be a belief such as pacifism or vegetarianism, which do not govern the entirety of a person’s life. It does not need to be ‘a fully fledged system of thought’.
  • A belief that is based on science, as opposed to religion, will not be disqualified from protection.