Ethical veganism can be a “philosophical belief” (but won’t always be)
The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination based on their philosophical beliefs. In order to be protected, the belief must be:
- Genuinely held;
- Be a belief not an opinion or viewpoint;
- Concern a weighty or substantial aspect of human life;
- Have attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness or importance (in a similar way to a religion); and
- Must be worthy of respect in a democratic society.
An employment tribunal has ruled for the first time that ethical veganism can be a “philosophical belief” and therefore protected in law.
This case was brought by vegan Jordi Casamitjana, against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports. Mr Casamitjana claims that he was dismissed because of his ethical veganism.
While all vegans eat a plant-based diet, ethical vegans seek to exclude all forms of animal exploitation. For example, Mr Casamitjana will walk instead of catching a bus to avoid any crashes with insects or birds, as well as excluding any products made from “animal exploitation” such as wool, leather and animal testing.
The employment tribunal held that Mr Casamitjana’s belief satisfies the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief under the Act. We are awaiting the full written judgment to understand the exact reasoning. However, this determination means that, if Mr Casamitjana can show that he was sacked because of this belief, it will amount to unlawful discrimination.
However, this case does not mean that all vegans, or even all ethical vegans, can claim to be protected under the Equality Act. Other ethical vegans will not have exactly the same set of beliefs as Mr Casamitjana. The protection of a philosophical belief is, by its very nature, fact specific to the individual with the belief, and the Tribunal will look in detail at that individual’s belief to decide whether it satisfies the tests for protection. It is worth noting that the League Against Cruel Sports did concede that Mr Casamitjana’s beliefs were all-encompassing and that, cumulatively, they amounted to a philosophical belief and therefore never seriously challenged that he had a protected belief. It is also a first-instance employment tribunal decision, and therefore not binding on other employment tribunals.
However, the high-profile nature of this case and subsequent publicity means that vegans who believe they have been dismissed because of their veganism are now more likely to look to bring a claim in this regard. Employers dealing with the dismissal of vegan employees are therefore well advised to approach with caution.