An employment tribunal has decided that ethical veganism is capable of protection under discrimination law. The employee’s ethical veganism – which covers his broader lifestyle rather than just diet – was an integral part of his life and was found to meet the requirements to be protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act.
It’s important for employers to be aware of the case to ensure all employees are treated appropriately.
What is the Case About?
In Casamitjana v The League of Cruel Sports, an employee claimed that he was dismissed after he raised concerns that his employer’s pension fund invested in companies that carried out tests on animals. He argues that following his disclosures he was dismissed because of his belief in ethical veganism and that as such he had been discriminated against. He didn’t have sufficient service to claim ordinary unfair dismissal.
The employer, an animal rights campaign group which claims to be one of the most vegan-friendly employers, denies discrimination and is arguing that the employee was dismissed for gross misconduct and for failure to follow management instructions – reasons unrelated to his beliefs.
As part of deciding whether he has been discriminated against the employment tribunal firstly had to decide whether ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act. Philosophical belief is one of the nine grounds on which employees have protection from discrimination.
For a belief to be protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act it must meet several tests including:
- Being genuinely held
- Being 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, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
- Have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief
The tribunal found that ethical veganism met the requirements for a philosophical belief and that the employee adhered to that belief. The employee demonstrated to the tribunal that ethical veganism had become determinative of the way he lived his life. He will, for instance, walk rather than take a bus to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds.
Whilst the employee’s belief in ethical veganism was found to be a philosophical belief, that does not mean that the employee will win his case. The tribunal will now have to consider whether his beliefs were the reason for his dismissal or whether, as the employer is asserting, the two are unconnected.
In light of this decision employers may wish to review how ethical vegans are treated in their organisation to ascertain whether any changes are required.
Whether an employee’s particular beliefs will qualify for protection as a philosophical belief will depend on the facts of the case. However, it’s important to ensure that all employees are treated with dignity and respect in the workplace.
If you have any employment law matter with which you would like assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.