In a recent Employment Tribunal case, it has been confirmed that ethical veganism is a protected belief under the Equality Act and ethical vegans are entitled to the same employment protections as people who hold religious beliefs.
The case was brought by Jordi Casamitjana against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports; Mr Casamitjana claims that he was dismissed by the League after disclosing and raising his concerns that it invested pension funds in firms involved in animal testing. This was, so he claimed, against his ethical vegan beliefs. The tribunal was dealing with a number of preliminary matters which included whether a “belief” under the Equality Act included ethical veganism.
How is a belief defined?
Under the Equality Act, belief means “any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.” Previous case law has established that a philosophical belief must:
- be genuinely held
- be a belief, and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
- be a belief as to 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, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
In the current case, while the employer did not contest that veganism was protected, the tribunal still had to conclude that ethical veganism met the above tests.
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Effect of the decision
First, it is important to bear in mind that this was a decision of an Employment Tribunal and so it is not strictly binding in other cases, but it is very likely that other cases would go the same way. Secondly, the ruling does not mean that Mr Casamitjana won his case – this is still to be decided and the former employer denies that the fact Mr Casamitjana held ethical vegan beliefs influenced the decision to dismiss him.
The decision is, however, an important reminder to employers that it is not just religious beliefs that are covered by the Equality Act. Therefore, employers should ensure that they do not single vegans out for unfair or detrimental treatment.
Some practical steps that employers should consider are:
- checking any dietary requirements in advance and ensuring that appropriate vegan food is available where an employer is providing food to its workers
- Ensuring there is no offensive behaviour in the workplace related to such a belief – for example, offensive comments or jokes about vegans (even if thought to be “banter”)
- Updating equality policies to ensure it is clear that beliefs such as veganism can be covered
- Providing equality and diversity training to workers to ensure they are aware of the issues.