Ethical Veganism Classed as Philosophical Belief

An employment tribunal has ruled that people who are vegan for ethical reasons must be protected from discrimination and victimisation. In the first of a two-part hearing at the Employment Tribunal in Norwich concerning dismissed employee Jordi Casamitjana, who claims he was unfairly dismissed due to his beliefs in veganism, the judge found that he was “overwhelmingly satisfied” that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief.

In coming to this conclusion, there is now a precedent for ethical veganism to be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Notwithstanding whether or not the second part of the Tribunal finds that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed unfairly, judge Robin Postle’s landmark ruling concerning the status of ethical veganism is enough to have potentially widespread implications for employers.

But what are the details of this ruling and what actions, if any, should employers take?

First and foremost, it is useful to clarify the definition of ethical veganism. Whilst a growing number of people are choosing to follow a plant-based diet – therefore avoiding all animal products such as dairy, eggs, honey, meat and fish – the distinction of ethical veganism comes in the extension of this approach into all aspects of an individual’s life. Ethical vegans will attempt to exclude all forms of animal exploitation – for example in the materials used in their clothing and footwear.

These beliefs will also extend to the choices an individual takes or companies they choose to engage with. Mr Casamitjana’s claim against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, arose after he claimed he was dismissed for raising concerns that the company pension was being invested in organisations that had been linked to animal testing.

In reaching his ruling regarding Mr Casamitjana, the judge found that the beliefs held satisfied several tests – including that it is worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.

To be afforded any protection under the Equality Act, each individual’s beliefs would have to be assessed on their own merit and meet the same set of criteria. It can safely be said that vegetarians or those with other dietary requirements that do not constitute a ‘belief’ will not be protected under law.

However, in relation to those who can be classed as ethical vegans, employers will need to consider reviewing the support they offer such individuals, and if any changes are required. Businesses must take steps to ensure that ethical vegans are treated fairly, and that their beliefs are respected.

On a practical level, matters including the provision of food and beverages for staff will need to be reviewed, with vegan options being made available where necessary.

A more in-depth review will be required for job roles that involve regular interaction with animal-based products and it is likely that a new set of policies would need to be drafted in this instance.

Although the ruling is unlikely to have a significant direct impact on the day to day undertakings of the majority of employers, it is a useful reminder of the Equality Act 2010 and how far it extends to protecting employees against discrimination and unfair treatment. Employers should also remember that the Equality Act applies to every stage of the employment process – including to those applying for jobs.

Religion and belief are one of nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act. The others are; age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex and sexual orientation.

For more information on the ruling or the Equality Act in general, please get in touch.

At O’Donnell Solicitors our Employment Law team can advise employers on policies and procedures and act on behalf of both employers and employees in relation to all employment law matters. If you require advice, please contact Suzzanne Gardener (suzzanne@odonnellsolicitors.co.uk).