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Beliefs, Climate Change and Discrimination Claims

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In an extraordinary case, Nicholson -v- Grainger Plc the Employment Tribunal held that an individual's beliefs about climate change were capable of being a "belief" for the purposes of the legislation governing discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.

This law came into force in December 2003 and prohibits discrimination or harassment in the workplace by reason of any religion or belief. Significantly, the term "belief" is defined as "any religious or philosophical belief".

The facts of the case were that Mr Nicholson was made redundant by his Employer and he brought a number of claims including a claim that he had been discriminated against on grounds of religion or belief, on the basis that he had "a strongly held philosophical belief about climate change and the environment".

At a preliminary hearing, the Tribunal was asked to rule upon whether Mr Nicholson's beliefs were protected under the legislation. In evidence, Mr Nicholson stated that his beliefs relating to climate change and the need to reduce carbon emissions were:

"Not merely an opinion but a philosophical belief which affects how I live my life including my choice of home, how I travel, what I buy, what I eat and drink, what I do with my waste and my hopes and fears".

The Tribunal held that his beliefs did give rise to a moral order similar to most religions and that these should fall within the scope of the legislation. The Tribunal did go on to stress that Mr Nicholson would still have to show that he suffered discrimination on the basis of his beliefs and that their decision on this preliminary point should not be seen as the thin end of the wedge for similarly based complaints.

Nevertheless, this appears to be the first case in which a Claimant has successfully argued that a belief that is not similar to a religious belief falls within the definition.

Employers will no doubt be concerned to learn that in selecting employees for redundancy, they should avoid any suggestion that a person has been selected on grounds of his or her particular beliefs. Selection of candidates for redundancy is problematic enough, without having to contend with such issues that might have previously been considered (with good reason) to be completely irrelevant.

For further information contact Paul Grindley by email: paulgrindley@keeblehawson.co.uk or direct telephone: 0113 3993424.

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