This time of year makes me nostalgic. I remember that, when I was younger, there was a comedian on television called Dave Allen. His material often featured the topic of religion and, while some considered him to be a comic genius, others thought him irreverent or bordering on blasphemous.
I particularly recall his words as he ended each show, saying: “May your god go with you”, indicating that he respected everyone’s right to hold a set of beliefs, irrespective of whether he shared them or not.
This brings me to Tim Nicholson, who was made redundant from his post as head of sustainability by his employer. Mr Nicholson claimed that his beliefs on climate change had contributed to the loss of his job. A judge subsequently ruled that Nicholson could claim for unfair dismissal in relation to the employment equality laws. The employer - maintaining the redundancy was down to operational requirements and restructuring - appealed on the grounds that Nicholson’s views were political.
An Employment Appeal Tribunal in November, however, judged that a belief in man-made climate change could amount to a philosophical belief under the Religion and Belief Regulations 2003, and granted Nicholson permission to take his case to a tribunal, on the grounds that he was discriminated against because of his philosophical beliefs.
So what constitutes discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief? Employers may not discriminate against a worker or candidate on the grounds of:
- Religion - actual and/or perceived
- Belief - religious or philosophical, actual and/or perceived
- The religion/belief held by someone with whom a worker or candidate associates
- Lack of religion or belief
Discrimination could be direct or indirect. Direct would be to treat someone less favourably than others because of their religion, for example providing more holiday entitlement to Christians at Christmas than non-Christians.
Indirect would involve applying requirements which again disadvantages someone, such as instigating a practice contrary to the religion of members of the workforce, for example insisting on a dress code which offends their religion.
Discrimination may justifiable if performance of an activity is essential to the job for which that person was employed, but that performance must apply to all employees, irrespective of religion or belief and such issues should be discussed at interview stage if pertinent.
Religions that are recognised and protected in the UK include Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism, while beliefs include Humanism.
Notwithstanding the outcome of Nicholson’s tribunal, employers may do well to remember the words of Dave Allen and respect the beliefs or non-beliefs of their employees.