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Employment tribunal rules ‘Ethical’ Veganism is protected from discrimination

15th January, 2020

The Employment Tribunal has now made a decision in the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, concerning whether ‘ethical’ Veganism is protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”).

In our previous article we discussed that the judgment in the case of Conisbee suggested that although Vegetarianism was NOT a protected characteristic, Veganism may qualify owing to its clear “cogency and cohesion” in the belief system that was not found in Vegetarianism. For the first time, an Employment Tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief under the EqA.  The tribunal judge found that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief as it satisfies several tests, including that it is “important” and “worthy” of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and does not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.  This means ethical vegans are entitled to similar legal protection as those employees holding religious belief.

Background

The claimant states that he was discriminated against on the basis of his belief in being an ‘ethical’ Vegan. The Claimant submits that he was dismissed owing to a disclosure he made to his company concerning its pension scheme investments being linked to animal testing. The League Against Cruel Sports suggests that Mr. Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct.

An ‘ethical’ Vegan as opposed to a ‘dietary’ Vegan is where the person makes an active effort to remove any form of animal exploitation from their lifestyle. This can include refusing to wear wool, leather and use any product that is associated with animal testing.

In the recent preliminary judgment, the court has agreed that ‘ethical’ Veganism is a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic under the EqA. This decision may now provide a level of protection for ‘ethical’ Vegans that did not exist prior to this decision.

 

It should however be noted that this case was heard at a first tier employment tribunal so the decision is not legally binding, but will provide guidance for future judgments.   Employers should ensure that they (and their employees) do not discriminate against employees for their beliefs, including ethical veganism.

The tribunals also appear to generally be interpreting the definition of Religious and Philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010 more broadly. For example in the case of Grainger PLC v Nicholson [2009], the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed and accepted that a philosophical belief in Climate Change can exist.

Tips for Employers

In light of this ruling, we would recommend employers consider making small changes in the workplace, such as offering vegan food options at work related events and raising awareness of veganism.

It would also be wise for employers to consider updating their Equality and Diversity policies, training and practices to ensure that they do not fall foul of the EqA.

If you or your HR department require advice in relation to any of the Protected Characteristics included within the Equality Act 2010 or any other areas of Employment law please do not hesitate to get in contact with us at Aaron and Partners LLP.

 

Debbie Coyne

Employment Law

Senior Associate
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01244 405 537

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