No, held the Employment Tribunal in the recent case of Mr G Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited and Others.
Mr G Conisbee v Crossley Farms
In order for a philosophical belief to gain protection under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA), it must:
- Be genuinely held;
- Be a belief, rather than an opinion or viewpoint;
- Be 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, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others; and
- Have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
The belief need not be shared by others.
Facts of the case
Mr Conisbee is a vegetarian. He resigned from his position as waiter at the Fritton Arms hotel in Suffolk (owned by Crossley Farms Limited), where he had worked for approximately 5 months. He alleged that whilst employed he had been subject to discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief contrary to the EqA, after being given snacks by colleagues that he was later told contained meat, for example, a croissant covered in duck fat and a pudding containing gelatin.
Mr Conisbee submitted that vegetarianism deserved the same protection as other well-established religious or philosophical beliefs. He argued that many vegetarians have a genuine belief that it is wrong and immoral to eat animals and subject them and the environment to cruelty and perils of farming and slaughter. He held that this was a serious belief integral to his way of life.
The Company, whilst accepting that Mr Conisbee had a genuine belief in his vegetarianism, submitted that Mr Conisbee’s belief that the environment would be a better place without slaughtering animals for food was merely an opinion and a viewpoint. They argued that the belief of vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour, but about preserving the life of animals and fish. The Company also referred to the fact that many people practice vegetarianism at some point in their life but later stop to evidence the difficulties that employers might face if vegetarianism was held to be a protected characteristic under the EqA, in knowing whether a person held a protected characteristic or not.
Employment Tribunal ruling
The Employment Tribunal held that, although the belief was genuinely held and worthy of respect in a democratic society, they were not persuaded that vegetarianism amounted to a philosophical belief that was deserving of protection because:
- It did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, because it was simply a lifestyle choice and belief that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food.
- It did not attain the required level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, because reasons for being vegetarian differ greatly.
In today’s society, more and more people are becoming aware of the impact that their choices can have on the environment, society and future generations and are considering alternative lifestyle choices.
It was noted in this case that there is a distinction to be drawn between vegetarianism and veganism, with the reasons for being vegan appearing largely to be the same and therefore being a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief. The Employment Tribunal are due to hear a case concerning whether ‘ethical veganism’ deserves protection under the EqA in due course – so watch this space!
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