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When 'being green' becomes a matter for wrongful dismissal

An extraordinary ruling by a judge has given sacked employees the option of 'playing the Green card' and make 'wrongful dismissal' claims against their former employers on the grounds of their belief.

A former employee has had his right to sue his employer affirmed by an appeals judge on the grounds that his environmentalist views are a philosophical belief and not a political view. No tribunal has yet begun, but as a consequence of this astonishing ruling, may now take place.

The case has been brought by a former 'sustainability officer' for a company who was made redundant in 2008. He argues that under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Act 2003 an act that is applicable in England, Scotland and Wales but not Northern Ireland belief in the hypothesis of man-made global warming constitutes a religious or philosophical belief, and this affords protection from discrimination. In March 2009, the man won the right to sue for unfair dismissal from a regional employment tribunal. Although the company appealed, the ruling by the judge has upheld the man's right to sue.

Is 'being green' the new religion?

The ruling may be a significant one in years to come. The number of environmentally related positions such as 'sustainability officers' and eco-advisers has exploded in recent years as companies clamour to affirm their green credentials. However, this explosion in the creation of eco-jobs, particularly in the public sector, has to be paid for. And it is highly likely that, as the economic climate remains chillier than the real climate, those jobs may be the first to be discarded by future governments looking to make savings. Could this ruling mean that being green gives you a job for life? And when does a belief in scientific fact become a belief that can be protected under a law designed to prevent discrimination against those who practice a particular religion or faith? Has being 'green' become the new religion?

The entire situation surrounding the 2003 Act has become very confused. In 2005, the Attorney General of Scotland declared that atheism might constitute a philosophical belief, but that a belief in the 'supreme nature of Jedi Knights' did not, despite Jedi Knights achieving the status of a religion in the eyes of the 2001 UK Census. This case is also one of the first to cite a 'wiki' type entry on the Internet as a direct source proving that environmentalism could be considered to be a philosophical belief as well as a scientific fact. The lawyers acting for the man used a 10,500 word entry on 'Environmental Ethics' in the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy as evidence. The judge, amazingly enough, agreed, but has also said that the 2003 Act would also serve to protect those who didn't agree with the environmentalists views and felt discriminated against for being nay-sayers against the global warming debate.

Serious issues

It seems that the 'Silly Season' has continued well into the autumn this year, but as quirky as this case may seem, it does raise some very serious issues concerning discrimination in the workplace, and how it affects those with strongly held beliefs or opinions. At what point does the 2003 Act fail and should common sense become the guiding light here? Does a passionately held standpoint on global warming and the effects of climate change actually constitute a 'belief' and can you really be discriminated against for holding a particular view on science that is still being debated? The scientific community is still arguing amongst themselves as to exactly what kind of impact man has been having on the global climate, but is environmentalism really the basis of a 'belief system' for the 21st Century?

Belief is fundamentally a matter of opinion, and this ruling seems to imply that you can bring a claim for discrimination against a company just because they don't happen to agree with your point of view on global warming. As said, although seemingly frivolous, this case does have wider implications for both employers and employees right to freedom of speech and to express their opinions without being subject to an employment tribunal. This silly season case will run and run!

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