Grainger plc and others v Nicholson EAT/0219/09
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has held that an employee's asserted belief that mankind is heading towards catastrophic climate change and we are under a moral duty to act to mitigate or avoid this is capable of being a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (SI 2003/1660).
Mr Nicholson was made redundant and subsequently brought a claim for religion or belief discrimination. He argued that his stated belief about climate change and the environment is not merely an opinion, but is a "philosophical belief" under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. He said that his belief influences his choice of home, how he travels, what he buys, eats and drinks, and what he does with his waste. For example, he no longer travels by airplane, has eco-renovated his home, tries to buy local produce, has reduced his consumption of meat, composts his food waste, and encourages others to reduce their carbon emissions. He fears for the future of the human race, given the failure to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale.
An employment tribunal found that Mr Nicholson's claim could proceed, as his belief amounts to a philosophical belief within the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.
The EAT dismissed the employer's appeal and allowed Mr Nicholson's claim to proceed, but said that the employment tribunal had gone too far in what it had said. The employment tribunal had, without examining whether or not Mr Nicholson in fact had the asserted belief, found that Mr Nicholson has a philosophical belief within the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. Without evidence and cross-examination on the genuineness of the belief, the tribunal should have found only that the asserted belief is capable of being a philosophical belief.
The EAT went on to say that, for a philosophical belief to come within the legislation, it must:
- be genuinely held;
- be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
- be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity and or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
The belief does not have to govern the entirety of a person's life. While the support of a political party might not meet the description of a philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine would not necessarily be disqualified. A philosophical belief that is based on science, as opposed to religion, should also not be disqualified from consideration.
The EAT noted that the employment tribunal would have to hear evidence and cross-examination about the genuineness of the belief, especially in light of its unusual nature.
Case transcript of Grainger plc and others v Nicholson (Microsoft Word format, 87K) (on the EAT website)
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