An Employment Tribunal in Norwich has determined that veganism is a “philosophical belief” which should be protected by the Equality Act 2010. An interim hearing in a claim which is being pursued by “ethical vegan” Jordi Casamitjana against his former employers the League Against Cruel Sports has reached a decision on whether or not they feel that Mr Casamitjana’s ethical veganism is covered by the Equality Act.
The Act prohibits discrimination, harassment or victimisation of employees due to their “religious or philosophical belief” and the Employment Code of Practice confirms that a belief which is not a religious belief may be a philosophical belief and covered by the Act. Whether the belief of the employee is covered by the Act is unique in each case. In previous cases, the Tribunal has concluded that vegetarianism is not a philosophical belief but a lifestyle choice, whereas strongly held views about climate change and fox hunting have been held to be philosophical beliefs.
In determining whether the belief can be covered by the Act, the Code states that the belief need not include an element of “faith” or a worship of a God, but must affect how the person lives their life, or perceives their world. The Code also suggests that in order to be protected as a philosophical belief the belief of the employee must:
- be genuinely held;
- be a belief and not an opinion;
- be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness or importance and
- must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Mr Casamitjana’s views of ethical veganism extend beyond a decision to eat a plant-based diet and also exclude all forms of animal exploitation including wearing products derived from animals or using products tested on animals. He has argued that the League’s decision to dismiss him was based upon him informing some of his colleagues that the League had chosen to invest employee pension funds in companies which engaged in animal testing. He viewed this as discriminatory if his ethical veganism is a philosophical belief. This allegation is denied by the League which states that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct.
The Tribunal’s decision that ethical veganism can be a philosophical belief should have a relatively limited impact on businesses. Each case should be considered on it’s own facts so this decision does not mean that the beliefs of all vegans will be covered by the legislation. Business owners may wish to review some of their operating processes, for example businesses which provide employee restaurant facilities may wish to ensure that these include vegan options and that employee uniforms/PPE include non-leather options where this is possible. The Equality Act was designed to promote equality in the workplace and the key learning point for businesses will be to ensure that vegan employees are not being treated less favourably than their colleagues due to their veganism. The practical impact of the Tribunal’s decision is unlikely to be as significant as media reporting may suggest.