What Constitutes A Philosophical Belief

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 prohibit direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment in the workplace on the grounds of religion or belief. Originally, employees were protected from discrimination by reason of any ‘religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief’. In April 2007, the Equality Act 2006 made changes to the wording of the Regulations. The word ‘similar’ was removed so that protection from discrimination is now afforded by reason of ‘any religion, religious or philosophical belief’.

The removal of the need for claimants to prove that a philosophical belief they hold is similar in nature to a religious belief would seem to extend protection under the Regulations to those holding a wide range of beliefs. Whether or not a particular belief is covered will be decided on the facts of individual cases as they arise.

In Nicholson v Grainger plc, the Employment Tribunal (ET) decided at a pre-hearing review that an individual’s beliefs about climate change were capable of being a belief for the purposes of the Regulations. Mr Nicholson brought a claim of unfair dismissal against his ex-employer. His contention was that he had been discriminated against because he was made redundant on account of his views on the environment. The Employment Judge rejected Grainger’s argument that views based on empirical evidence could not constitute a philosophical belief.

This ET decision does not create a binding precedent and may yet be appealed. However, it does serve as a reminder to employers of the potentially broad scope of the Regulations.

In the 2001 Census, just over 390,000 of the 52,000,000 people in England and Wales wrote on their Census return that their religion was ‘Jedi’, after the ancient monastic order that features in the Star Wars films. This made it the fourth largest reported belief. Whilst the UK courts have yet to recognise Jedi as a religion, an adherent who is able to demonstrate that it has a clear belief system which has a profound effect on their way of life may well be entitled to protection from discrimination under the law. May the force be with them.

The material contained in this article is provided for general purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances and before action is taken.

© , July 2009

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