Legal update: Employment Tribunal rules ethical veganism a philosophical belief

Gavel and weights

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. Whilst it is usually easy to identify religious beliefs which would be protected under the Act, it is often more difficult to identify protected philosophical beliefs.

Over recent years, this has been an area where claimants have tried to push the boundaries to include a wide range of beliefs. For example, a belief in man-made climate change has been held to be a philosophical belief protected under the Act.

To be entitled to the protection, the employee must establish that:

  • They have a genuinely held belief (not just an opinion or viewpoint)
  • The belief concerns a ‘weighty’ and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • It is worthy of respect in a democratic society and is not incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others
  • It is held with ‘sufficient cogency, seriousness and importance’

 

Employment tribunal fees

In the ruling on 3 January 2020, the Norwich Employment Tribunal held that ‘ethical veganism’ is a philosophical belief which is protected against discrimination under the Act.

Mr Jordi Casamitjana claimed that he was dismissed by the League Against Cruel Sports because he has raised issues concerning their pension funds investing in companies known to be involved in animal testing.

Before considering the merits of the claim, the Tribunal had to determine whether ethical veganism fell within the scope of the Act. The Tribunal will now go on to have a full hearing to determine whether this was the reason behind the dismissal.

Could this ruling be extended to vegetarianism?

Such a case came before the Norwich Employment Tribunal in November 2019 when it was held that protection did not extend to vegetarianism. The reasoning for this was unclear and if the matter came before a different tribunal, particularly in light of this latest ruling, a different outcome may arise.

One of the obstacles for establishing a protected belief, in this case, was the fact that there can be many different reasons for being vegetarian – health, diet etc. This could also be said for veganism and it is worth highlighting that the Casamitjana case, it was specifically a belief in ‘ethical veganism’ which was protected, namely a belief in avoiding any animal consumption or exploitation.

The latest decision should put employers on notice of the importance of ensuring that those with vegan food requirements are taken into account when providing food at work functions.

It would also be sensible to take this approach when dealing with vegetarian requirements. They should also be mindful of any other aspects of the work environment which could have an impact, for example, expecting vegans to use hand soap tested on animals.

Businesses should also make sure that employees are not subject to any jokes about such beliefs. Often employers turn a blind eye to such behaviour and view it as good-natured ‘banter’ but this can cause significant problems for them in the future, with the potential for claims of bullying to arise.

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