The recent case
An Employment Tribunal has found that ethical veganism can be considered a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. It has led to highly publicised coverage in the media with some calling it a ‘landmark’ case and has been welcomed by vegans as ‘breaking new ground’.
The Claimant, Jordi Casamitjana who worked for the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), had alleged that he was unfairly dismissed as a result of his ethical veganism following being sacked for gross misconduct after he had disclosed to colleagues that the LACS were investing pension funds into companies that were involved in animal testing.
The decision comes following a Preliminary Hearing to determine whether ethical veganism constituted a philosophical belief. The issue of whether he was unfairly dismissed is yet to be heard.
Despite the decision, it remains to be seen whether this will have the far-reaching consequences that some believe it will. It was a first instance decision made by the Norwich Employment Tribunal and does not have to be followed.
What is ethical veganism?
Mr Casamitjana went to great lengths to prove that he wholly believed in ethical veganism, and evidence included a 28-page witness statement detailing how veganism all but consumed his life. In his case it was clear that the veganism has become a belief and impacts every aspect of his day to day life. Whether all vegans will fall into this category is undetermined and it may be likely that each matter will have to be considered on a case by case basis.
Some of the examples provided in his statement included:
- That he no longer felt that he had a choice in his interactions with the world and that everything was viewed through the prism of veganism;
- He does not use cash wherever possible because new notes contain traces of animal products;
- Since becoming vegan he has only worked in the field of animal protection;
- Where possible he avoids social gatherings where not all of the food served is vegan; and
- He will not date or share a property with somebody who is not vegan.
Protection from discrimination
It is unclear whether someone who has a plant-based diet but for example wears leather would be protected in similar circumstances and where the threshold would ultimately lie.
Nevertheless, employers should be aware that ethical veganism can be considered a philosophical belief and certain behaviour towards vegans by employers and / or their employees could make themselves vulnerable to discrimination claims.
For more information on discrimination in the workplace, click here.
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