An Employment Tribunal Judge has ruled for the first time ever that ethical veganism amounts to a ‘philosophical belief’ and is therefore protected by law.
The case was brought by vegan Jordi Casamitjana, who claimed he was sacked by his employer – the League Against Cruel Sports – because of his ethical veganism, which he says affects all aspects of his life and not just his diet.
Sitting today in Norwich, employment Judge Postle, ruled that ethical veganism – vegans who, as well as eating a plant-based diet, try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation – should fall under the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”). The League Against Cruel Sports maintains that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct.
Now the Tribunal has established that Mr Casamitjana’s belief is covered by discrimination law, it will turn its attention to ruling on whether his dismissal was on the grounds of that belief as he suggests.
Ethical veganism a philosophical belief
What is a philosophical belief?
In this latest landmark legal hearing, the Judge ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief after satisfying several tests. This ruling therefore means that ethical vegans are entitled to protection from discrimination under the Act.
It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against, harass or victimise an employee due to religion or belief. For a belief to be protected under the Act, a complainant needs to show that their belief:
- is genuinely held;
- is a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- attains a certain level of cogency, seriousness and importance;
- is worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity or rights; and
- is not an opinion or view based on current information.
What steps can employers take to accommodate vegan employees?
Last year, The Vegan Society reported that 1 in 3 people in the UK stopped or reduced their meat consumption in 2018, so it’s important that employers consider taking steps to accommodate vegan employees. Organisations can do this by:
- Ensuring vegan options are available
If the business has a workplace cafeteria/restaurant, they should ensure that at least one vegan food option is available. If providing snacks for meetings is a company’s usual working practice, an employer should also ensure vegan snacks are available.
- Monitoring potential bullying and/or harassment
Comments about people being vegan could be deemed offensive by some workers and, as the above case supports, could amount to discrimination on the grounds of a philosophical belief. If this happens, it is worth referring employees to the company’s employment policies and procedures regarding bullying and harassment and the worker’s obligations to them.
- Making special accommodation, if needed
In circumstances where a vegan employee may not feel entirely comfortable undertaking a certain aspect of work – for example, visiting a client who supplies or cooks meat products – the business should attempt to make accommodation so that the person in question is happy to undertake this work responsibility.
Essentially, employers are advised to ensure that their business is welcoming and inclusive of vegan beliefs, creating a culture of understanding and respect.
No one should have to endure bullying, harassment or discrimination at work on the grounds of any protected characteristic. If you feel that this is happening to you, you can raise a formal grievance with your employer or speak to your union if you are a member. If this still doesn’t resolve the situation, you may wish to seek legal advice on your rights and options.