Ethical veganism IS a protected philosophical belief

Last week, an Employment Tribunal ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief protected under the law. Andrew Rees looks at the facts and explains the decision.

Under the Equality Act 2010 (the “Act”), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee, by treating them less favourably than others because of their “religion or belief”. The Tribunal has now decided that ethical veganism is “a belief” that falls under the Act and therefore, ethical vegans are entitled to protection from discrimination.

The facts

The case involves an ethical vegan, Jordi Casamitjana (“Mr C”), and his ex-employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, an animal welfare charity. Mr C was dismissed for gross misconduct after informing colleagues that his employer’s pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing. Mr C had raised this with his bosses, but he was not satisfied with their response and decided to share the information. He was then dismissed.

Mr C brought a claim in the Tribunal arguing that he had been unfairly dismissed following the disclosure, and that he had been discriminated against on the grounds of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.

For ethical veganism to meet the criteria of a philosophical belief, the Judge had to be satisfied that the belief:

  • is genuinely held
  • is a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • is worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
  • is indeed a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint

The decision

The Judge was satisfied that ethical veganism was ‘important’ and ‘worthy’ of respect in a democratic society and that it therefore was a philosophical belief.

A similar case decided earlier this year, demonstrates the threshold for a belief to be considered a philosophical belief protected under the Act. In September, the Tribunal held that although vegetarianism could be a genuinely held belief and was worthy of respect, it failed to meet the other legal hurdles required for protection under the Act, namely it was an opinion or viewpoint, not a belief, and that it did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, but concerned the welfare of animals.

Interestingly, in this case the Tribunal contrasted vegetarianism with ethical veganism, which it suggested could be a coherent belief system dealing with all aspects of an individual behaviour for the same reasons, whereas an individual’s choice to be a vegetarian can be for several different reasons or none. It appears the case decided today involving Mr C follows on from this. Mr C’s ethical veganism was not only a vegan diet, but a philosophy that extended into other areas of his life. For example, Mr C would try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation including not wearing clothing made of wool or leather, not using products tested on animals and would walk rather than take a bus to avoid any accidental crashes with insects or birds.

The decision provides ethical vegans with protection against discrimination in employment, education and the provision of goods and services. For example, the question now arises as to whether an ethical vegan employed in a clothes or footwear store could be obliged to stack and fold leather jackets or shoes, or whether caterers will always need to provide a vegan option, not just a vegetarian option.