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‘Veganuary’ Special: Is Ethical Veganism a Philosophical Belief?

As January is being promoted as ‘Veganuary’ to encourage people to try veganism, it seems a good time to look ahead to an employment tribunal case which is due to decide if ethical veganism is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act.

Ethical veganism is where veganism is an ethical choice rather than purely a  dietary or health matter.

What is the Case About?

A former employee of the League Against Cruel Sports is asserting that he was dismissed after he raised concerns that its pension fund invested in companies that carried out tests on animals.  He claims that following his disclosures he was dismissed because of his belief in ethical veganism and that as such he has been discriminated against. He does not have sufficient service to claim ordinary unfair dismissal.

His former employer 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 will need to determine 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.

What is a Philosophical Belief Under the Equality Act?

For a belief to qualify as a philosophical belief, guidance from case-law says that it must:

  • Be genuinely held
  • 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, 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

It will be against these factors that a belief in ethical veganism will be assessed. This will be the first time the issue of whether it is a philosophical belief will be considered in an employment tribunal. Case law has previously determined that the belief in the sanctity of life, including anti-fox hunting and hare-coursing, could qualify as a protected philosophical belief so it will be interesting to see the tribunal’s decision in this case.

Even if a belief in ethical veganism is found to be a philosophical belief, that does not mean that the employee will win his case. The tribunal will have to consider whether his beliefs were the reason for his dismissal or whether, as the employer is asserting, the two are  unconnected.

Looking Ahead

The case is due to be heard in March this year. We will keep you updated with developments, in the meantime if you have any employment law or HR issues please do not hesitate to contact us as we are happy to help.