Could you be discriminating against staff on the grounds of their veganism?
Veganism has become a lot more popular in recent years and much more “mainstream,” with vegan options available at most restaurants and supermarkets.
According to a recent survey of 1000 vegan employees, nearly half say that they feel that they have been discriminated against in the work place and a third say that they have felt harassed or unfairly treated because of their veganism. Many vegans say that they feel under pressure from their employers to “fit in” and to keep their beliefs to themselves.
As we know already, it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their religion or belief. It is straightforward to make a claim, for example, if you are a Christian, because Christianity is recognised and accepted as a religion.
But what about Veganism? When does someone’s dietary preferences suddenly become a philosophical belief, which may be a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010?
Mr Casimitjana is an “ethical” vegan. He worked for the League against Cruel Sports and was dismissed for gross misconduct. He recently made a claim to the Employment Tribunal that he had been dismissed and discriminated against on the grounds of his veganism. Ethical veganism is similar to dietary veganism, in that, both eat a plant-based diet. However, ethical veganism encompasses the belief in veganism being a way of protecting animals and the environment. Mr Casimitjana’s claim was that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, that affects every aspect of his life, much the same as a religion would.
The League Against Cruel Sports defend this claim, denying that his dismissal had anything to do with the fact that he is a vegan. In the present case of Mr Casimitjana, we are still waiting for a decision as to the fairness of his dismissal, however, an employment tribunal Judge has just recently ruled that ethical veganism does constitute a philosophical belief.
Veganism as a belief was also discussed back in 2011 by the courts, when a Tribunal decided that an anti-fox hunting stance could amount to a philosophical belief. Mr Hashman had brought a claim against his former employers, a garden centre, who had dismissed him when they found out about his fervent anti-hunting views. In this case, the Claimant argued that his fervent objection to fox hunting and his fundamental belief in the sanctity of animal life was a philosophical belief capable of protection, under the Equality Act 2010. Being mindful of the environment, of other creatures, not using animal-based products and being a vegan was all part of this belief. In this case, the Claimant described his philosophical belief as the largest and most prominent part of his identity and he won his case, the first of its kind.
Of course, there is a big difference between veganism as a philosophical belief and simply choosing to eat plant-based products. However, employers should be mindful of the fact that for those staff who choose to eat vegan, this may be part of a wider philosophical belief, covered by the Equality Act 2010.
For employment law advice surrounding the Equality Act 2010, contact Lindsey Abbott.