Nicholson v Grainger Plc – Employment Tribunal

This case addressed the question of whether holding a strong belief in climate change could gain protection as a philosophical belief under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (the "Regulations").

The case

Mr Nicholson was dismissed from his role as Head of Sustainability in July 2008 by Grainger. He raised a grievance about his dismissal after discovering a spreadsheet which showed that the decision to dismiss him was taken in October 2007. Since then, he believed that his colleagues had obstructed his attempts to improve sustainability, including refusing to allow him to access data on the company's carbon footprint.

Mr Nicholson felt that these obstructions were not made in good faith and complained of unfair dismissal and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief under the Regulations, the latter based upon his belief in climate change.

This belief, he claimed, affected matters such as his choice of home, travel, food, drink and his hopes and fears.

The decision

At a Pre-Hearing Review the Employment Tribunal held that Mr Nicholson's belief in climate change could be protected under the Regulations. However it added that Mr Nicholson would still have to provide evidence at an Employment Tribunal that the decision to dismiss him was taken because of his belief.

In examining the meaning of 'philosophical belief', the Tribunal accepted that a belief based solely on empirical evidence could be protected, although it commented that there are not likely to be many cases where the claimant would succeed on similar grounds, and that this decision did not represent 'the thin end of a wedge of similarly based complaints'.

What does it mean for you?

Employers should be mindful of this decision as it demonstrates the wide approach that Tribunals take when interpreting what may be classed as a "belief" pursuant to the Regulations. If a belief has a material effect upon an employee's life, then it could gain protection. Employers should also be careful to ensure that the exact reason for implementing a dismissal is properly evidenced and made clear to the employee concerned, to minimise the risk of accusations of discrimination arising on termination.