Under the Equality Act 2010, it’s unlawful to discriminate against an individual because of their religion or philosophical belief. Now, that includes ethical veganism.
In a landmark decision, the employment tribunal has found that a claimant’s ethical veganism falls into the category of philosophical belief. This means they’re free to bring a claim against their former employers of discrimination.
Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports
In this case, Jordi Casamitjana argued he was unfairly dismissed from his position. He was dismissed after raising concerns that his employer’s pension fund invested in businesses that were involved in animal testing. Identifying as an ethical vegan, the claimant asserted that his dismissal was due to his beliefs. The tribunal agreed that these beliefs satisfied the tests required for a philosophical belief. Therefore, he should be provided legal protections.
Why is it a genuine belief?
Identifying what can amount to a philosophical belief can be tricky. There have been numerous claims that have sought to place this label. Previous cases have determined that philosophical beliefs protected under discrimination legislation include anti-hunting beliefs and a belief in the higher purpose of journalism. However, a belief in wearing a poppy to show respect to those who gave their lives in war was not. To be classed as a philosophical belief, the Employment Appeal Tribunal has previously ruled that the belief must:
- be genuinely held
- not just be an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
- relate 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, and not incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
So, is veganism now a protected characteristic?
This latest decision doesn’t mean all vegans have a philosophical belief. It doesn’t even mean that those who identify as ethical vegans, are protected. This ruling specifically applies to the beliefs that Casamitjana maintains and will not be shared by all vegans. Casamitjana’s beliefs extend beyond eating a plant-based diet. For example, he refuses to use any product made from ‘animal exploitation’, such as leather. He also avoids catching buses due to the potential for the vehicle to crash into insects or birds.
Additionally, the organisation in this case didn’t contest the view that ethical veganism should be legally protected. So it is unlikely to appeal the ruling. However, a separate case with a similar situation could still reach a different outcome.
Is another case likely?
This ruling has received a significant amount of publicity. As a result, it’s likely to encourage more employees who feel discriminated against to consider bringing claims. Employers may want to consider what steps they can take to provide more support to vegans. For example, it’s advisable to place close attention to the food on offer in any staff canteens or pre-arranged business lunches. Always ensure there are always vegan options available.
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