Is Veganism a philosophical belief? Thus capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010 and if so, what are the implications for UK Employers?

This is an update to our article of 10 December 2018.

With veganism in the UK increasing exponentially, Employers should consider the implications of recent statistics about veganism in the workplace pending the outcome of a Tribunal decision on whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief.

Whether or not veganism is a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act 2010 is a question which has been central to the ongoing case of  Mr Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (“LACS”).

Mr Casamitjana worked for LACS, an animal welfare charity, until he was dismissed for gross misconduct. Mr Casamitjana distinguishes himself from those who choose to eat vegan for health reasons or weight loss and describes himself as an “ethical vegan”, as his veganism affects “every single aspect” of his life, including his diet, clothing choices and which products he uses.

Following his dismissal, Mr Casamitjana issued a claim in the Employment Tribunal (“ET”) claiming that he was disciplined and dismissed because he raised issues with his managers that LAC’s pension funds were invested in firms involved with animal testing. Subsequently, when the managers did not change the practices, he drew his colleagues’ attention to this fact. He felt strongly against the pension investments because of his veganism, and as such Mr Casamitjana claims his dismissal was a result of discrimination on the grounds of his “philosophical belief” in ethical veganism.

LACS contend that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct and that any link to his dismissal with veganism is “factually wrong.”

The Equality Act 2010 (“Act”) protects employees and/or job applicants from discrimination, harassment and victimisation based on “protected” characteristics, one of which is that of “any religion or philosophical belief.”

Due to the broad definition of a “philosophical belief”, it is unclear how far this definition extends, and as a result, there has been (and will continue to be) a wide range of cases testing the law in this area. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) has provided some criteria to be considered, which is as follows:

  • The belief must be genuinely held;
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint;
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Although a hearing was set for March 2019 for the ET to determine whether “ethical veganism” falls within the definition of a “philosophical belief” under the Act, LACS conceded the point in advance of the hearing and so the hearing did not go ahead.

However, the ET Judge has decided that it is important that a Judicial decision be made to determine the status of “ethical veganism” as a philosophical belief, and as such, a new hearing to determine this point has been set for October 2019.

Previous case law has seen a range of beliefs being held to fall within the definition of “philosophical belief”, including a belief in climate change, a fervent belief in anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing and a belief in Scottish independence. Therefore, Mr Casamitjana’s claim appears to have a fair chance of success.

Also to Mr Casamitjana’s advantage is the fact that when the Equality and Human Rights Commission produced its first draft code of conduct on the Act, the example given for a philosophical belief was that of a vegan who makes an ethical commitment to not consume animal products of any kind. This example did not feature in the final version due to the Government disagreeing with the interpretation, however interpretation of the Act is a matter for the courts.

If, as is likely, the Tribunal does determine that “ethical veganism” falls within the definition of a “philosophical belief,” Employers should be cautious as to the possible implications of such a decision.

The numbers of vegans in the UK is growing exponentially, with reports by the Vegan Society showing that between 2014 and 2018, the number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled from 150,000 to 600,000. With almost half of the UKs vegans making the change in 2018, there does not appear to be any signs of this upward trend slowing down.

Businesses across the UK are adapting to this change in market, with statistics (by Mintel) suggesting 1 in 6 products launched in the UK in 2018 were vegan. Now, in light of the Casamitjana case, the time has come for Employers to begin adapting too.

A survey of 1000 vegans and bosses has revealed that nearly 50% of vegan employees in the UK feel discriminated against by their employer, whilst nearly a third have felt harassed or unfairly treated at work due to their veganism. The research clearly highlights the potential risk for Employers of a considerable increase in discrimination claims if the ET finds veganism to be a “philosophical belief.”

Whilst dismissing someone because of their vegan beliefs, as contended in the Casamitjana case, sounds extreme, a failure to provide vegan food at Christmas parties or in firm related meetings or the harassment of vegans for not eating certain foods (often disguised as office banter) is likely to be more commonplace.

Pending the outcome from the ET as to whether veganism is indeed a “philosophical belief”, Employers should be looking to mitigate the risks of a potential increase in discrimination claims, including by reviewing catering and implementing policies to ensure they are doing everything they can to avoid direct or indirect discrimination against their vegan employees.

For more information about any of the issues in this article, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with or telephone 0114 228 3282 or any member of our multi-award winning team.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.

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