It has been held that a belief that carbon emissions must be cut to avoid climate change can amount to a “philosophical belief” for the purpose of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. This was the finding of the Employment Tribunal at a pre-trial review in the case of Nicholson v Grainger PLC and others ET 2203367/08.
The claimant was dismissed on the grounds of redundancy. However, he believed that he was actually dismissed because of his belief in climate change. He brought a number of claims, including a claim for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief on the basis that he had "a strongly held philosophical belief about climate change and the environment. At a pre-hearing review, the claimant was successful in persuading the Employment Tribunal that his belief was protected under the Religion or Belief Regulations as it affected most aspects of his life (choice of home, travel, what he ate). His belief qualified for protection as it satisfied the conditions that it must have “sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion, importance and be worthy of respect in a civilised society”. It was also held that his belief gave rise to a moral order similar to those seen in major religions and he based his life on his belief. It is worth noting that this case is subject to appeal. If the EAT uphold the finding, the claimant will still have to show that his dismissal was because his employer disapproved of his beliefs rather than for the potentially fair reason of redundancy.
By comparison, a justice of the peace resigned from employment when his refusal to be excused from cases that might lead to adoption by same-sex couples was rejected. He argued that he was being discriminated against on the grounds of his religious belief. It was held that his objection at the time had not been based on his religious belief but because he viewed it as a “social experiment”. Therefore, his claim failed at the first hurdle in that it was not based on ”religion”. Moreover, it was noted that even if he had passed the hurdle, there was objective justification for his treatment as the Department of Constitutional Affairs was entitled to require him to carry out the duties of his office.
These cases highlight the wide discretion that tribunals have when applying the definition of religion or belief which can encompass a much greater variety of beliefs than the commonly accepted definition of a religion or belief. Moreover early case law in this topical area is exposing how variable and case specific these judgments currently are.