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Can you discriminate against an employee because they are vegetarian or vegan?

29th November, 2019

In Conisbee v Crossly Farms ltd, the employment tribunal decided that vegetarianism was not a belief for qualifying for protection under the equality Act 2010 (“EqA”)

The claimant was only employed for 5 months before resigning and alleging he had been discriminated against on the grounds of religion and belief under the EqA. The Claimant alleged that he was given snacks by colleagues and was later told they contained meat. The claimant submitted that his core beliefs as a vegetarian and his subsequent treatment were the reason for his resignation and that vegetarianism deserved the same protection as other well established religious or philosophical beliefs.

The respondent denied the claims.  The Tribunal accepted that Mr Connisbee had a genuine belief in his vegetarianism which was worthy of respect, however his belief failed to meet the legal test to be considered a philosophical belief and gain protection under the EqA, because:

  1. The belief that the world would be a better place without slaughtering animals for food was merely an opinion or viewpoint; Vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice and his belief did not concern  a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  2. It did not attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance because the reason for being a vegetarian differs greatly, including reasons of lifestyle, health, diet, personal taste and concern about the way animals are treated for food; and
  3. It did not have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.

Ultimately, the tribunal found that Vegetarianism was NOT a protected characteristic under the EqA and Mr Conisbee lost his claim.  It is important to note that this decision is not binding on other tribunals but provides an example of how the tribunals are approaching religion or belief claims based on vegetarianism.

Comment

The case noted however that there is a distinction between vegetarianism and veganism and the Employment Tribunal is now determining whether Veganism is a protected characteristic. A preliminary decision on the matter is expected imminently.

Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports has the potential to have a substantial impact on the employment rights of up to half a million vegans in the UK if the Tribunal find in favour of the Claimant. Whilst dismissing someone because of vegan beliefs (as in the case of Casamitjana) may be rare, a failure to provide vegan food at Christmas parties or at firm related events or harassment of vegans for not eating certain foods (often disguised as office banter) is likely to become more commonplace.

Interestingly the tribunal in Conisbee made specific reference to vegans in its decision. It outlined that the reasons for individuals choosing to be vegan are largely the same so there is a clear “cogency and cohesion” in the belief system for vegans that was not found in vegetarianism. This may prove persuasive to the court to find in favour of Casamitjana.

Tips for Employers

  • Be mindful and respectful of your employee’s beliefs and lifestyles no matter how strange they may seem personally to you.
  • When in doubt ask your employee if they are comfortable performing part of their role which may be in conflict with their belief or lifestyle.
  • Respect the employee if they convey fears of a conflict and have a discussion with them to reach an agreeable alternative if available.

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

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

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