A fascinating new case due to go to tribunal next March brings a number of issues to the fore, the central one being:
Is veganism a philosophical belief?
You might wonder why this is important. Well, if it is ruled the veganism is a legitimate philosophical belief, it becomes covered by the ‘religion or belief’ protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
If this is the case it means that employees cannot be discriminated against or dismissed due to this belief.
To determine how likely it is that veganism will become a protected belief, we first need to define a ‘belief’
What constitutes a ‘belief?’
For a belief to become protected by law, it must meet a few requirements. ‘Belief’ means any religious or philosophical belief – for it to be protected it must meet the requirements of:
- be genuinely held and not just an opinion or point of view
- be a belief about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
- attain a certain level of logic, seriousness, structure and importance
- be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
The lawyers of the individual making the claim believe that ethical veganism ‘comfortably’ satisfies these requirements, and therefore should be protected. However, that will be decided definitively at tribunal in March.
In this case, the employer claims that the employee was dismissed as a result of gross misconduct, not for any reason relating to his belief. They go on to state "Mr Casamitjana is seeking to use his veganism as the reason for his dismissal. We emphatically reject this claim."
Despite the claim that the employee was dismissed due to gross misconduct, the tribunal will serve as a landmark case in deciding the validity of veganism as a belief.
The ruling will undoubtedly impact vegans in employment for years to come.
What is gross misconduct?
While there is no strict legal definition of gross misconduct, there is a government definition, and that is: "theft, physical violence, gross negligence, or serious insubordination". But it can also refer to any act that destroys the employer-employee relationship.
It’s important to address the difference between regular misconduct and gross misconduct. Here’s a basic distinction for both:
Misconduct is generally behaviour that's unacceptable in the workplace but doesn't necessarily damage the reputation of the business. Some examples include:
- Persistent lateness.
- Unauthorised absence.
- Misuse of workplace facilities.
Gross misconduct, on the other hand, can cause palpable damage to the business, such as:
- Intoxication while at work.
- Violence at work.
- Serious health & safety breaches.
Are you concerned by the upcoming case on veganism as a protected belief? Need assistance addressing an act of misconduct in the workplace?
As this case demonstrates, sometimes discrimination isn’t as clear cut as it seems and support is needed to ensure you don’t misstep and end up at an employment tribunal. For expert insight on these issues, speak to a Croner expert on 01455 858 132
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