On 03 January 2020, a Norwich Employment Tribunal ruled that ethical veganism constitutes a philosophical belief protected by discrimination laws.
This decision followed a claim brought by Mr Casamitjana alleging that he was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against by the League Against Cruel Sports due to his beliefs as an ethical vegan. His former employer says he was dismissed for gross misconduct. The Employment Tribunal is yet to issue a judgment on Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal and whether he was treated less favourable because of his belief in ethical veganism.
This decision confirms “ethical veganism” as a protected philosophical belief and could be the first step on the road to ethical vegans being protected from discrimination.
In order to amount to a philosophical belief and gain protection under the Equality Act the belief must:
- Be genuinely held;
- Be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint;
- 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; and
- Not be incompatible with human dignity.
What impact does this ‘landmark’ decision have in practice? Perhaps, not as much as it first appears… This is the decision of the first instance Employment Tribunal; it does not have to be followed by future Tribunals. It is worth noting that, Mr Casamitjana’s former employer, did not contest that his veganism amounted to a protected philosophical belief. Also, this decision relates to ‘ethical veganism’; those that take their vegan beliefs beyond not consuming animal products. Ethical vegans, like Mr Casamitjana, try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle, including avoiding clothing made from leather or wool and avoiding companies that carry out animal testing. It is unlikely that those simply following a plant-based diet would gain the same protection.
In October 2019 another Employment Tribunal in Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd held that vegetarianism is not capable of amounting to a philosophical belief, finding that it is “not about human life and behaviour”; rather it is “a lifestyle choice”. The Tribunal distinguished between vegetarianism, which it did not find had the requisite cogency to amount to a philosophical belief because people adopt the practice for many different reasons such as lifestyle, health, diet, concern about animal treatment and personal taste, and veganism, which could potentially have the requisite cogency because those who adopt the practice share the same belief: “they do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products…”
The decision certainly gives employers something to think about; from ensuring vegan options are available at team lunches to considering policing offensive jokes about veganism to avoid allegations of harassment.
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