Beliefs protected by the Employment Equality (Religion Or Belief) Regulations 2003 are “any religious or philosophical belief”. Recent litigation on the meaning of a “philosophical belief” (Grainger plc v Nicholson EAT 2009) confirmed that a passionate belief in ‘man-made global warming’ could be a “philosophical belief” within the Regulations. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decided that the case law on the European Convention on Human Rights was relevant in this context, and that to qualify for protection as a “philosophical belief”, the belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, and must not be incompatible with human dignity. It is interesting to note that a religious belief does not have to pass these basic tests in order to be protected. However the Grainger case explains that there is not requirement that a protected “belief” is one shared by others – a one-off belief is capable of being protected (although it was acknowledged that a widely shared belief is more likely to attract legal protection). And a “philosophical belief” does not have to be a fully-fledged system of thought; but it must be genuinely held, and about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
The purpose of the law could be seen as seeking to minimise the effect of philosophical or religious beliefs on the workplace – they are not to be the basis of detriments to workers, either from the employer or from co-workers.
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk. You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye and check our regular articles and news throughout the autumn on our blog site – https://irenicon.wordpress.com/