Stoicism is a 2,300-year-old system of ethics which guided the steps of such giants of classical history as Seneca and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Its adherents may nowadays be few and far between, but an Employment Tribunal (ET) has ruled that it nevertheless qualifies as a philosophical belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act 2010 (Jackson v Lidl Great Britain Ltd).
The case concerned a supermarket employee who lodged ET proceedings following his dismissal. One of his complaints was that he had suffered discrimination due to his adherence to a Stoic way of life. Stoicism was founded by the Greek thinker Zeno of Citium in about 300 BC and emphasises that peace of mind can only be obtained by leading a virtuous life. The issue of whether Stoicism is a philosophical belief within the meaning of the Act was considered at a preliminary hearing.
The man said that the values of Stoicism – wisdom, courage, moderation and justice – underpinned almost every act he performed in his life. If the ethical demands of his belief drove him to say or do something, he asserted that he would take that course regardless of consequences, even if it caused offence to others.
Ruling on the issue, the ET noted that, as the man's job was in communications, one could see the potential for such an uncompromising stance to result in conflict. He was, however, serious in his views, applying them consistently and with a single-minded logic. His belief in Stoicism was genuine and transcended the mere holding of an opinion or point of view.
Stoicism, the ET found, plainly concerns weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour and is of sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance to enjoy the status of a philosophical belief. The fact that the man might feel driven by his sense of right and wrong to offend others by his words or deeds did not render his belief unworthy of respect in a democratic society. His belief was not incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others. There was no fundamental right not to be offended.