If there was any doubt that it was then it has been dispelled by a London Employment Tribunal recently. The facts are interesting enough, but the point of law raised is potentially massive and may cause to happen what Judges fear more than anything else: the floodgates opening! Cue Biblical style disaster, get building the ark now! (Judges and lawyers always worry about “the floodgates” opening when there is a new development in law – it might mean a deluge of cases swamping the courts).
In this particular case, according to The Independent, one Tim Nicholson was employed by a company called Grainger plc, a property investment company, as their Head of Sustainability. His job seems to have been to develop the company’s green policies and reduce its carbon footprint. Grainger apparently had strong policies on corporate responsibility and the environment, albeit Mr Nicholson thought they were just for decorative effect. When he tried to do his job and implement green iniatives he was met with resistance and obstruction.
He was made redundant and claimed unfair dismissal. Importantly, he also claiemd that he had been discriminated against because of his “philosophical” belief in climate change. He had made far reaching “green” adaptations to his lifestyle and practised what he preached. He brought the claim under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations, which provide that a person shall not be subject to less favourable treatment on the basis of their religious or philosophical belief. What is important in this instance is that a belief in climate change has not hitherto been afforded, officially anyway, the status of a philosophical or religious belief, although you might be forgiven for thinking that it had given the huge amount of publicity given to it. The Regulations themselves do not provide a definition of what constitutes a religion or a philosophical belief. At a preliminary hearing the Employment Judge decided that Mr Nicholson’s green beliefs did come within the protection provided by the Regulations.
The important issue from the employment law perspective is the impact this could have upon claims. We are not told for how long Mr Nicholson was employed by Grainger prior to his redundancy, but if he had less than 12 months continuous employment he would not be eligible to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. However, there is no 12 month qualification period where the dismissal is alleged to have been on discriminatory grounds. Secondly, claims for discrimination are not limited by the statutory cap on compensation (currently £66,200) that applies to unfair dismissal claims.
This wasn’t the final hearing and no judgment has been given on whether Mr Nicholson was dismissed unfairly or discriminatorily. There will probably be an appeal and I would be very surprised if this decision is not overturned at some stage. Keep those floodgates closed!