Client Login

Employment Law Services Ltd

Discrimination on grounds of religion and belief – covers belief in “climate change”.

30th November 2009

In the recent case of Grainger v. Nicholson the Employment Appeals Tribunal has ruled that a firm belief in climate change can amount to a philosophical belief that is protected by the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. Mr Nicholson brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal that he had been dismissed from his job as the “Head of Sustainability” because of his belief in climate change. Mr Nicholson emphasised that his views were not merely opinions. He said that his belief in climate change affected many areas of his life; including his choice of house, what he eats, and how he travels.

In deciding whether or not the belief in climate change (and the effects of climate change) was protected by the Regulations, the Employment Tribunal considered cases heard in the European Court of Human Rights (not to be confused with the European Court of Justice, which rules on the effect and application of European Union Law). The Employment Tribunal concluded that Mr Nicholson’s beliefs gave rise to a moral order similar to those derived from “the major world religions that eschew certain types of meat, promote sexual abstinence and make a virtue of poverty.”

In supporting the decision of the Employment Tribunal the Employment Appeals Tribunal established guidelines for determining what is (and is not) a “philosophical belief” protected by the Regulations. It noted that from the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, that a “philosophical belief” must include the following criteria:-

a.       The belief must be genuinely held,

b.      It must be a “belief” not merely an opinion or viewpoint based on information currently available,

c.       It must be a belief concerning a weighty and substantial part of life and behaviour,

d.      It must have a certain cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and

e.       It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society not be incompatible with human dignity, and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

f.       It is necessary for the belief to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief,

g.      The belief in question does not have to be shared by others in order to be protected, and

h.      A philosophical belief” need not amount to a “fully-fledged system of thought” that governs the entirety of a person’s life, provided the above criteria are satisfied.


The EAT make it clear that in some cases, such as Mr Nicholson’s belief in climate change, cross-examination and certain questioning of the person’s claimed beliefs should be permitted. In the case of established religions the individual will only have to demonstrate that he or she adheres to the particular religion in question e.g. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. This isn’t in some respects surprising. The worry for employees is that any sort of set of beliefs may be protected by the Regulations. We believe that it is highly unlikely that the Parliament intended a belief in climate change to be a belief that should be protected by the Regulations. Political beliefs were almost certainly the main target for protection under the provisions relating to “philosophical belief”, e.g. Socialism. We also take the view that the wording of the Regulation was constructed with the intention of covering “religious-type” belief structures and the belief in certain general approaches to life eg. Humanism, and pacifism. Frankly we do not think that Parliament intended to protect the types of belief that Mr Nicholson holds. The problem is that his beliefs may, in the minds of many observers, merely constitute an opinion or viewpoint based on information currently available- and hence, following the criteria set about above in the European Court  of Human Rights cases NOT amount to a cogent, coherent “philosophical belief”.

One useful point for employers to note is that there are decisions for the Employment Appeals Tribunal that the Regulations do not protect an individual that attempts to impose his or her beliefs on others. So an employee that tries to foist his/her belief in the effects of “climate change” on others against their wishes may not actually be protected by the Regulations. The limit of Mr Nicholson’s success in the EAT, in its ruling that his belief in climate change is a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Regulations, is that the ACTUAL BEHAVIOUR of the person holding (or espousing those beliefs to others) will not always be protected by the Employment Tribunal. The persistent, excessive attempts by an individual to “convert” others to his/her beliefs is NOT protected by the Regulations.

If you need any further advice and help on the issues raised in this article please do not hesitate to contact us.

Advanced Site Search