When commercial landlord Grainger created the post of ‘head of sustainability’, little could it have guessed the chain of events that would ensue. After all, such a nebulous title seems harmless enough.
Yet, thanks to the views of its incumbent, the company may face one of the more bizarre unfair dismissal claims to come before an employment tribunal.
Tim Nicholson, who took the head of sustainability job after joining Grainger as a surveyor in 2006, claims he was made redundant from that post because of his views on climate change. Key to his position is that holding views on climate change and its ramifications can be deemed to be a philosophical belief, and that holders of such views can be discriminated against.
In Nicholson’s case, it seems that he was not taken seriously enough by some colleagues at Grainger. For example, he claims he wanted to set up a carbon management system at the company and needed data to help him to do so – but staff refused to give it to him.
The company had argued that Nicholson’s views were based on science and did not constitute a philosophical belief as permitted under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) regulations.
This betrays a lack of understanding of the interplay of philosophy and science down the centuries. For example, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead’s work Principia Mathematica set out to show that mathematics was inextricably linked to symbolic logic, a branch of philosophical thinking.
As the 20th century US writer Ayn Rand observed: “Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence. In the realm of cognition, the special sciences are the trees, but philosophy is the soil which makes the forest possible.”
If so, then Nicolson’s views can indeed be interpreted as a philosophical belief. One-nil to the tree huggers.