Sacked employees can play the 'Green Card', and make wrongful dismissal claims against their former employers on grounds of their belief, a judge has ruled.
Paradoxically, this could also protect non-believers - such as climate skeptics and atheist vicars, the latter being the norm in the Church of England, which we'll come to in a moment.
So what's happened? Basically, a former employee has had his right to sue the employer affirmed by an appeals judge, on the grounds that his environmentalist views are a philosophical belief (and not a political view). No such Tribunal has yet been held, but may now take place.
The case was raised by a "sustainability officer" called Tim Nicholson, who had been made redundant by the property company Grainger last year. Nicholson argues that under the 'Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003', belief in the hypothesis of man-made global warming constitutes a religious or philosophical belief, and this affords protection from discrimination. In March, Nicholson won the right to sue from a regional employment tribunal. Grainger appealed against that decision, and Justice Burton's decision yesterday backs Nicholson, affirming his right to sue.
The ruling may be significant in the years to come. The number of environmentally-related positions such as "sustainability" officers and eco advisers has mushroomed in recent years - particularly in the public sector, where a future government (most likely Conservative) needs to make steep cuts. Could Nicholson help create a sacred employment class of eco-jobsworths, we wondered?
One silk who declined to be named told us it is likely to increase claims against employers.
"It doesn't make you unsackable, any more than being black, gay, a woman, disabled, or Muslim makes you unsackable. It just potentially puts him into a class of person given protection from unlawful less favourable treatment,"
"What it might mean is that a few will play the Green card, when they have been sacked for doing fuck-all work, and doing what little they have done, badly, will claim that the actual reason for their sacking is their beliefs."
In his judgement, Justice Burton wrote,
A belief in man-made climate change, and the alleged resulting moral imperatives, is capable, if genuinely held, of being a philosophical belief for the purpose of the 2003 Religion and Belief Regulations. The belief must be of a similar cogency or status to a religious belief, the ECHR jurisprudence is directly material and the limitations on the concept and extent of a philosophical belief can be derived from that, without the need to place any additional limitation on the nature or source of the belief.
Nicholson, who is not shy of advertising his beliefs, had provided the following statement:
I have a strongly held philosophical belief about climate change and the environment. I believe we must urgently cut carbon emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. It is 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 my fears. For example, I no longer travel by airplane, I have eco-renovated my home, I try to buy local produce, I have reduced my consumption of meat, I compost my food waste, I encourage others to reduce their carbon emissions and I fear very much for the future of the human race, given the failure to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale.
Nicholson repeated "I fear for the future of the human race" several times again for TV cameras yesterday.
In his complaint, Nicholson said that Grainger had flown an employee to Dublin to hand him his missing Blackberry - a crime against Gaia, and an indication that his "beliefs" were not being respected.
But what, then, constitutes a philosophical belief?
In 2005 the Attorney General of Scotland declared that atheism may constitute a philosophical belief, but that a belief in the 'the supreme nature of Jedi Knights', for example, may not be.
The AG had indicated that politics shouldn't be construed as a philosophy. Nicholson's barristers took this line of argument too, and attempted to persuade the judge - by quoting from that historical work of authority, The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. This is a volunteer project that, we discovered, lacks entries for Empiricism (or Logical Positivism, or Marx) but does include an entry for Evolutionary Psychology (sic) and a 10,500 word entry on 'Environmental Ethics'. The defence cited that.
The Judge agreed, but pointed out that the protection afforded by the 2003 Act cut both ways.
"If the Respondent has his philosophical belief in climate change, and he were to discriminate against someone else in the workforce who does not have that belief, then the latter would be capable of arguing that he was being treated less favourably because of his absence of the belief held by the Respondent."
So it appears that climate skeptics are protected too - paving the way for the first 'Denialist' climate change official. The 2008 Climate Change Act decrees that every company must designate an employee as a carbon monitoring officer.
Justice Burton is the judge who decreed that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth contained nine serious errors and breached the impartiality guidelines of the 1996 Education Act.
Stuffing 'philosophical beliefs' into employment legislation was a sop to humanists, who fancied getting on the victim compensation game too. It's now up to Judges to decide when a philosophy isn't politics - little wonder that the result is farcical - with lots more work for lawyers. ®
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