EMPLOYERS can be liable if they unlawfully dismiss an employee because of a genuinely-held belief in climate change, a UK employment appeal tribunal has ruled.
The ruling by the Employment Appeal Tribunal came after domestic property giant Grainger PLC dismissed its environmental policy officer in mid-2008.
The company maintained the environmental policy officer had been made redundant, but he claimed he was discriminatorily dismissed for his philosophical belief in climate change and environmental protection.
This, he said, breached section3 of The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, which protects employees from discrimination because of their religion or beliefs.
Employment judge David Sneath found in March that the officer was entitled to pursue a discrimination claim.
But the company appealed, saying that a belief in climate change didn't qualify for protection.
In the appeal, Justice Michael Burton said that the law surrounding religious and philosophical belief was "uncharted territory".
He said that based on the available jurisprudence, for a philosophical belief to be protected, it had to be held genuinely, constitute a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint based on information available and relate to a "weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”.
The judge said the belief would need to be "worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others".
He said that for a belief to be protected by the law, it must "have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief". He said a protected philosophical belief didn't have to be shared by others; it could be a "one-off" belief.
"Pacifism and vegetarianism can both be described as one-off beliefs... namely a belief that does not govern the entirety of a person's life", he said.
The judge said that a political belief could qualify for protection under the laws.
A example, the judge said a belief in the supreme nature of the Jedi Knights, the Camelot-style order in the Star Wars films, would fail to qualify, but "belief in the political philosophies of Socialism, Marxism, Communism or free-market Capitalism might qualify".
The ruling can be seen here. (http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2009/0219_09_0311.html)