Grainger Plc and others v Nicholson (2010)

At a glance

  • Religion or religious or philosophical beliefs is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
  • The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) upheld the employment tribunal’s decision that an employee’s belief that mankind is heading towards catastrophic climate change and that we are under a moral duty to act is capable of being a protected philosophical belief.
  • This case sets out the legal test that must be satisfied in order for a belief to be a philosophical belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act 2010.


Mr Nicholson argued that his belief about climate change was not merely an opinion but constituted a philosophical belief worthy of legal protection. He stated that this belief affects the way he lives his life including the choice of how he travels, what he eats and drinks and his hopes and fears. For example, Mr Nicholson tries to buy local produce, composts his food waste, and encourages others to reduce their carbon emissions.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) identified that it was not their job to examine the merits of Mr Nicholson’s beliefs, but rather to decide if those beliefs qualify for protection under equality law.

The ET, when considering this, held that Mr Nicholson’s beliefs give rise to a moral order similar to most religions. In reaching this view, they rejected an argument that beliefs derived entirely from empirical evidence cannot be a philosophical belief. The ET too believed that Mr Nicholson’s beliefs were more than just a mere opinion since they affect the way he leads his life.


Grainger Plc appealed the decision. The ET’s decision was upheld. The EAT ultimately held that a belief in climate change can be a philosophical belief.

In reaching this decision, the EAT drew principles from existing case law and crystalised such principles into a legal test for philosophical belief. The EAT decided that in order for a view to be a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, it must:

  • be genuinely held;
  • be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity and or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

“The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that belief in climate change is capable of constituting a ‘philosophical belief’ worthy of protection under equality law. The EAT set down the key legal test to be applied when determining whether a belief qualifies as a protected philosophical belief.”

What does this mean for employers?

The important legal test set out in this case for determining whether a belief constitutes a protected philosophical belief has become known as the ‘Grainger Test’. This test has received endorsement from the courts in subsequent cases and now forms the basis of the legal test to be applied when determining whether a belief is worthy of protection.

This case is also a reminder for employers that the meaning of ‘philosophical belief’ is wider than many commentators had envisaged. Employers need to be mindful and take a cautious approach when taking steps against employees who express philosophical views, as this may in itself constitute unlawful discrimination. Employers should also steer away from implementing policies which would appear to criticise any philosophical beliefs, such as policies which state that such views will not be tolerated. Such a policy is likely to be discriminatory towards those who hold different beliefs to others.

Grainger Plc v Nicholson [2009] EAT 0219 09 0311