Last year, the Employment Tribunal decided that vegetarianism was not a philosophical belief (Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others).
Discrimination on that basis therefore does not benefit from protection under the Equality Act 2010, which seeks to protect employees from discrimination on the basis of a number of protected characteristics, including religion or philosophical belief.
This month the Tribunal has kicked off the New Year with a new addition to the growing body of case law on what constitutes a philosophical belief. In a case brought by employee Jordi Casamitjana against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Tribunal has held that “ethical veganism” is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The employer is a charity working against animal cruelty and the employee was dismissed in relation to his concerns that the employer’s pension fund invested in companies that tested on animals.
At first glance, this decision might appear to be a battle between veganism and vegetarianism as to which is more worthy of respect in a democratic society. However when the facts are considered more closely, the two cases can be easily distinguished.
Ethical veganism was found to be a more comprehensive belief system than ‘common or garden’ vegetarianism or veganism as the ramifications of ethical veganism extend far beyond just diet. Ethical vegans will not wear animal products such as leather and seek to avoid exploitation of animals as well as relying on animals in any form. This would extend to a wide range of activities such as their choices about hobbies, jobs, political views, personal relationships and hygiene and personal care routine.
One example cited by the employee of his lifestyle commitment to the ethical veganism belief system was that he will avoid taking the bus as a form of transport and walk instead to reduce the likelihood of killing insects and crashes with birds. There has been some speculation that the protection of ethical veganism under discrimination legislation is opening the floodgates to all sorts of non-religious ‘beliefs’. However, this is the decision of the Employment Tribunal at first instance and therefore would not be binding in another case. Additionally, the facts of each case will be looked at on their own merits and this particular employee’s belief was fundamental to all aspects of his life. In any event, employers should continue to be aware that that employee’s secular ethical beliefs are also worthy of the same treatment and respect as religious beliefs.
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