Beliefs about climate change ruled as valid as religious convictions
In a landmark court ruling, a judge ruled that Tim Nicholson's views on climate change should be given the same consideration by employers as "religious or philosophical beliefs".
Mr Nicholson's successful defence of his right to challenge Grainger Plc over his treatment could "open the floodgates" for other claimants with strongly held political views, in a case which applies UK-wide.
Mr Nicholson, 42, was made redundant as head of sustainability at residential landlord Grainger last year, but claims his opinions on climate change led to his unfair dismissal.
He says his beliefs affect his whole life and that he fears for the future of the human race. Mr Nicholson said he no longer travelled on planes and had made his home eco-friendly.
It was said Grainger chief executive Robert Dickinson showed "contempt" for these concerns and once flew a colleague to Ireland to deliver his BlackBerry after he left it in London.
In March, employment judge David Neath gave Mr Nicholson permission to take the firm to a tribunal over his treatment, but Grainger challenged the decision.
Yesterday, appeal court judge Michael Burton found in Mr Nicholson's favour and dismissed the company's arguments that his views were not the same as "religious or philosophical beliefs".
The judge said: "If a person can establish he holds a philosophical belief based on science as opposed, for example, to religion, then there is no reason to disqualify it from protection."
Mr Nicholson, from Oxford, said his views were becoming "more and more relevant" to the planet's future, adding: "I am grateful that Mr Justice Burton understood that deeply and genuinely held views about catastrophic climate change and the need to change our ways to protect the human race are philosophical views that are worthy of protection."
Legal expert Peter Mooney, head of consultancy at Employment Law Advisory Services, said the ramifications of the ruling were huge. He said: "In essence, victory will put employees who hold strong environmental beliefs in the same category and with the same protection as workers who hold strong religious beliefs.
"This would open the floodgates for others who believe employers have victimised them because of their views on the environment and how business deals with pressing environmental issues such as climate change and reducing our carbon emissions."
But Innes Clark, head of employment at Morton Fraser in Edinburgh, was more cautious, pointing out that the judgment set out "significant" limitations on the interpretation of beliefs.
"It is unlikely that those following the belief of Jedi Knights would be able to use this sort of argument if they suffered discrimination in the workplace as a result of their belief," he said.
"However, what is less certain is the issue of strongly held political beliefs and it is likely that, at some point, we will see arguments that certain strongly held views could now be protected as a 'philosophical belief'.
"Vegetarianism is another example referred to in the judgment and, again, it is possible that his sort of belief could be argued as being protected in certain circumstances at some point in the future."
Grainger's director of corporate affairs Dave Butler denied Mr Nicholson's views had any bearing on his dismissal.
He said: "Grainger absolutely maintains … that Mr Nicholson's redundancy was driven solely by the operational needs of the company during a period of extraordinary market turbulence, which also required other structural changes to be made within the company."