22 January 2020

Veganism is a philosophical belief

Veganism does qualify

In November, we reported on the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited & Others, in which it was decided that vegetarianism is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
Now, in the case of Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports, a tribunal has decided that ethical veganism does qualify.

How is belief defined here?

The Equality Act 2010 provides that “religion or belief” is a protected characteristic. Section 10 of the Act defines Belief as follows:

“Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.”

 

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A philosophical belief must meet five criteria – it 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; and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

What is ethical veganism?

Mr Casamitjana, an ethical vegan, not only does not eat any form of an animal product but also makes many decisions based on his views, which impact almost every aspect of his life. His beliefs govern his choice of clothes (he will not wear leather, wool or animal-derived glues), products, transport (he often walks rather than taking the bus to avoid hitting insects), choice of career and relationships with other people (for example refusing to have non-vegan food in his home or a relationship with a non-vegan). He devotes significant amounts of his spare time to the promotion of veganism.

He brought a claim against the League for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, and the tribunal held a preliminary hearing to decide whether ethical veganism is a protected belief. Mr Casamitjana’s case related to a dispute about the investment funds chosen by the respondent’s pension fund and his views on making his colleagues aware of this.

The League Against Cruel Sports chose not to dispute that ethical veganism was a belief, but as this was a legal question, the tribunal chose to hear expert evidence before making their decision.

The decision of the tribunal has not yet been published, but they have confirmed that ethical veganism is a protected belief, having satisfied all five tests above.

The decision, while it will not set any legal precedent, is likely to be seen as helpful guidance in future similar cases. The case is also confined to ethical veganism. Vegetarianism was held not to be a protected belief, so it is yet to be determined how dietary veganism would be treated.

Employers are more likely to have to consider issues relating to catering choices, uniform composition or travel, or how to handle ‘banter’ from colleagues around veganism. They should approach these issues with similar seriousness to an employee raising the same issues based on a religious belief.

 

For advice or further information, please contact Rowena Kay on 01242 246 429 or at rkay@hcrlaw.com.

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About the Author
Rowena Kay, Associate

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