A Tribunal has ruled that vegetarianism does not amount to a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010.

This comes at a  time when an Employment Tribunal is also shortly due to determine whether veganism is a philosophical belief, despite the parties having conceded that it was.

In the recent case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited & Others, the Claimant brought claims for discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief and a claim for notice pay. He argued that vegetarianism was capable of amounting to a philosophical belief and he should therefore be protected against discrimination on the grounds of being a vegetarian.

The Claimant was employed by the Respondent as a waiter for approximately 5 months. During the course of his employment, he alleged that he was bullied, including having been given snacks by colleagues who later told him that they contained meat (although it transpired this was untrue). He resigned after he was told off for attending work in an un-ironed shirt. He was also shouted out and possibly sworn at in front of customers.

The Tribunal had to consider whether vegetarianism could amount to a philosophical belief. In a previous case concerning philosophical belief, clarification was provided as to the standard of belief required to qualify for protection. In short, it must be genuinely held, be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint, as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. In addition, it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity, not conflict with the fundamental rights of others and “have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief”.

The Tribunal in Conisbee concluded that it was “not enough to have an opinion based on some real, or perceived, logic”. The Tribunal asked itself whether vegetarianism could be considered to be a weighty belief regarding a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

The Tribunal concluded that vegetarianism was a life style choice.

It was not about human life and behaviour. Although the Claimant’s view that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food was clearly an admirable sentiment, the Tribunal concluded that it could not altogether be described as relating to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

The Tribunal went on to compare vegetarianism with veganism. The Tribunal considered that there was a “clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief”. The reasons for being a vegetarian differed greatly among vegetarians, however the reasons for being vegan appeared to be largely the same. The judge stated that “vegans simply do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control”.

The judge’s comments in this case appear to draw a sharp distinction between vegetarianism and veganism and potentially pave the way for veganism to amount to a philosophical belief.

It is important to remember that this is a first instance Tribunal decision only. However, on the basis of the comments in this case, it seems likely that if a Tribunal were faced with a claim for discrimination on the grounds of veganism, the outcome may well be that it does amount to a philosophical belief. The correlation between veganism and climate change is also of interest. The Tribunals have previously found a belief in climate change to amount to a philosophical belief. The recent surge in employee activism in relation to climate change issues, not least the global climate strike which took place on 20 September 2019, suggests that the potential for claims of discrimination on the basis of philosophical belief could be on the rise.

The Tribunals have not yet had to decide whether ethical veganism amounts to a philosophical belief but all recent factors suggest that it is likely they would conclude that it does.

This issue should however be determined by a Tribunal in October 2019 in the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports. Although the question of whether ethical veganism amounts to a philosophical belief was conceded by the employer in that case, the Tribunal subsequently decided that it was important that a determination was made on the status of ethical veganism. We therefore await the outcome of that hearing.

If you would like any further information, please contact Hannah Boynes on 0113 2802058 or hannah.boynes@luptonfawcett.law or another member of the employment law 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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