Tribunal holds that ethical veganism is protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010

Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports

Whilst it was previously ruled that vegetarianism was not a philosophical belief, the Employment Tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism (rather than dietary veganism) is entitled to protection under the Equality Act 2010.

The Law

‘Religion or belief’ is one nine protected characterises under the Equality Act 2010. Religion means any religion or a lack of religion and belief means any religious or philosophical belief including a lack of belief. In order for a belief to qualify as a philosophical belief it must:

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

The Claimant is an ethical vegan meaning he follows a vegan diet for ethical rather than dietary reasons and opposes and excludes the use of animals from any aspect of his life.

The Respondent dismissed the claimant for gross misconduct after he disclosed to other employees that pension funds were invested in unethical companies which harmed animals, which contravened with the Respondent’s purpose of preventing animal cruelty.

The Claimant brought claims for indirect discrimination, direct discrimination, harassment and victimisation as a result of his belief in ethical veganism. At the preliminary hearing the ET had to decide whether ethical veganism qualifies for protection under the Equality Act 2010, the full merits hearing will be held later this month.

Decision

The ET held that the belief of ethical veganism was a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act and met the tests set out above. In coming to this conclusion, the ET considered the effect of ethical veganism on the Claimant’s day to day life, highlighting that this belief dictates his life choices. Such choices include his 100% vegan diet and avoidance of food that could potentially harm animals, avoidance of products tested on animals, not allowing non-vegan food into his home and choosing to walk rather than take public transport, if the journey is less than hour, to avoid harming wildlife.

It was concluded that the Claimant’s belief was genuinely held, not simply a viewpoint but a real and genuine belief as well as a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. It further held that ethical veganism without a doubt obtains a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance and in no way offends society; it is therefore worthy of respect.

Implications for employers

As this is a first instance decision, it is not binding and may yet be appealed following the full merits hearing. It does however highlight the sensitive issue of ethical veganism in the workplace and the readiness and approach of the ET to consider this as a protected characteristic. Although not all vegetarians and vegans will be protected under Equality Act, employers should respect the choices of ethical vegans and ensure they do not directly or indirectly discriminate against them.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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