Sustainability across the generations has always been important to family businesses. Recently a number of businesses have taken a lead on the issue of waste management and banning single use plastics.

Activism in the workplace is no longer the domain of an occasional random employee. More and more business leaders are becoming activists and driving the sustainability agenda.

Examples of employers leading on sustainability include banning employees from bringing single use plastics into the workplace, providing customers with canned water rather than in plastic bottles, introducing cycle to work schemes and bike lockers.

Activism doesn’t have a strict legal definition but an activist could be thought of as someone who speaks out against controversial issues that affect society as a whole. Recent surveys have found that more and more employees are speaking up to their employers where they have concerns about the ethical stance their employer may be taking. This is despite concerns that speaking up to an employer might put their job at risk. So what are the legal considerations?

When employees raise concerns it is worth stepping back to consider exactly what the concern is. Turning to the Equality Act for guidance might not be the most obvious thing for an employer to think of and you might be surprised that it can come into play to protect not just religious beliefs but also philosophical beliefs (or lack of beliefs). There have been a number of cases reported including where individuals have been made redundant and believe that the reasons for this happening was due to their belief in climate change. An idea or opinion can become a belief protectable by law if it influences how the employee lives their life. This might include influencing what the employee buys, what they eat, whether they eco-insulate their home or reduce their plastic waste. It is possible that some types of employee activism may be based on a philosophical belief protectable by law.

Reporting by employees of concerns for the environment and ways to improve sustainability might also amount to whistleblowing depending on what and how it is reported.  Concerns about damage to the environment and the health and safety of individuals can all be disclosures to an employer that give the employee legal protection.

On the flip side, if as an employer you are thinking of implementing plastic free policies or other policies enhancing environmental protections, consider the best way to roll these out. Do you have an employee forum that can assist? Will advertising your environmental credentials make you more attractive as an employer and how will you go about upholding the policy if not all employees are convinced they really need to follow it?

For further information about managing your people, plastics, HR policies and processes of all kinds, please don’t hesitate to contact Joan.Pettingill@LuptonFawcett.Law or T. 0114 228 3252.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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