Green Campaigner Protected by Religious Belief Legislation

Earlier this year, the HR Headmistress reported on the unusual case of Tim Nicholson who complained that that his philosophical beliefs had put him at odds with senior executives at his former employer Grainger plc, the UK's largest listed residential property company.

Mr Nicholson had been employed as Head of Sustainability. When he was made redundant in July last year, Mr Nicholson submitted a complaint to an employment tribunal, alleging that while Grainger had good written policies on the environment, it had refused to abide by them. Mr Nicholson claimed that when he tried to encourage the company to become more responsible, he was obstructed by his bosses.

For example, when Rupert Dickinson, Grainger’s Chief Executive, left his BlackBerry behind in London while on a business trip to Ireland, he simply ordered one of his staff to get on a plane and deliver the device to him. Yesterday, Mr Justice Michael Burton decided that: "A belief in man-made climate change, and the alleged resulting moral imperatives, is capable if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations."

Under those regulations it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of their religious or philosophical beliefs. Parliament did not originally legislate for political belief, and Justice Burton is in no doubt that the belief is political in this case, but now it seems that, not only will this lead to more claims, it will also be inconsistent in its effects, protecting some political beliefs but not others.

In his written judgment, Mr Justice Burton set out five tests to determine whether a philosophical belief could come under employment regulations on religious discrimination: The Five tests:

  1. The belief must be genuinely held.
  2. It must be a belief and not an opinion or view based on the present state of information available.
  3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life.
  4. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Humanism was given as an example meeting the criteria, while belief in a political party or the supreme nature of Jedi knights, from the Star Wars movies, were offered as ones that do not.

Employers should be mindful of this decision, especially when dealing with any employees with strongly held views and beliefs.

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