How veganism could soon be protected by law

6th February 2019

The case in question features Jordi Casamitjana, a vegan who is claiming discrimination following dismissal from his job at The League Against Cruel Sports.

Emyr Gwynne-ThomasHe claims that he was dismissed after raising concerns that his employer’s pension fund invested in companies that tested on animals. He claims he was unfairly disciplined and the decision to dismiss him was because of his belief in ethical veganism.

DAS Law’s Emyr Gwynne-Thomas takes a look at the case and some of the key questions it raises…

How veganism could be protected

Central to the tribunal’s decision will be the question of whether veganism constitutes a ‘philosophical belief’, thereby drawing it alongside the other protected characteristics such as age and disability set out in the Equality Act 2010.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has previously defined the criteria of a philosophical belief. It must:

  • Be genuinely held;
  • Be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint;
  • Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Humanism, pacifism and atheism are all examples of widespread philosophical beliefs that do receive protection under the Act and are frequently encountered in the workplace.

In this case the ex-employee describes himself as an ‘ethical vegan’, which means that he excludes from his life all forms of animal exploitation – not merely animal foods but also all by-products.

The allegation he makes is that he was dismissed for disclosing information regarding his then employer; the fact that they invested its pension funds into firms involved in animal testing.

The above test is unlikely to be satisfied by simply eating a vegan diet, however it is possible that the practice of rejecting all animal-related products may be shown to represent an overall set of beliefs, thereby achieving that level of ‘cogency’ and ‘seriousness’ necessary to qualify under the Act.

Employment protection for philosophical beliefs

Tribunals have long debated the merit of philosophical beliefs. In 2009 the Employment Tribunal ruled in the case of Grainger v Nicholson that a belief in ‘man-made’ climate change should be classed as a belief and would be protected under the Equality Act.

And in 2018 it was found by a Glasgow Tribunal that a belief in Scottish independence could be a protected philosophical belief, as the belief in sovereignty was “weighty”, involving “substantial aspects of human life”.

However even if veganism were found to be protected, this may not be the hardest task that the ex-employee will be faced with. In order to succeed with the claim for discrimination, the tribunal will have to be satisfied that he had been treated less favourably because he was a vegan.

The detriment suffered - being dismissed - will have to have had a direct connection with this protected belief. If the ex-employer can show solid evidence to suggest proper reasons for dismissal, then the fact that he was a vegan will ultimately be irrelevant and his claim will fail.

Whether this claim for discrimination is successful or not, it has given rise to substantial coverage around the notion of the protection of veganism as a philosophical belief. No matter the outcome, the increased attention around this thought-provoking subject may well be seen by many as a victory in itself.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created.

How to deal with mental health discrimination at work

There are legal protections in place to support those with a mental health condition. Here’s what you need to know if you are being treated unfairly at work because of your mental health.

October 2019 Learn more
How to avoid workplace discrimination in your business

Businesses must do all they can to prevent discrimination in the workplace and being up-to-date with equality law is essential.

April 2018 Learn more
What to do if you are being discriminated against at work

Everyone has the right not to be subjected to discrimination at work. In this article we look at what characteristics are protected by discrimination legislation.

April 2018 Learn more

Read more from the DAS Law blog

Employment disputes Can employees refuse to return to work if they feel unsafe?

Can an employee refuse to return to work due to fears of contracting Covid-19? Where does the law stand if employees decide to ‘take a stand’?

July 2020
Employment disputes Flexible furlough: what you need to know

Employers are left trying to understand how the recently ‘flexible’ CJRS can be used as we come out of lockdown and more businesses reopen and bring back their workforces.

June 2020
Employment disputes Redundancy: an employer’s guide

Hayley Marles and Simon Roberts – both Senior Associates at DAS Law – look at what an employer needs to know about redundancy.

June 2020
Employment disputes Redundancy: an employee’s guide

Hayley Marles and Simon Roberts – both Senior Associates at DAS Law – look at what an employee needs to know about redundancy.

June 2020
Employment disputes , Protecting your business The return to work: a guide for employers

Lucy Kenyon looks at what employers need to consider when returning employees to work.

May 2020
Employment disputes The Job Retention Scheme: have you got it right?

DAS Law Associate Carly Owen looks at the latest developments regarding the government’s Job Retention Scheme.

May 2020
Employment disputes , Protecting your business Health and safety and computers

Employers need to manage the risks to their employees of working at computers for long periods of time. DAS Law’s Bethan Mack explains.

May 2020
Employment disputes ‘Self-isolation’ – what it means and its possible impact on your rights and pay

More and more people in the UK are being told to self-isolate to minimise the spread of the Coronavirus. What impact will this have on workers’ rights and pay?

February 2020
Employment disputes Do employees get extra pay on a leap year day?

Every four years, many workers find themselves cramming an extra day of work into an already packed year. But are workers in the UK entitled to extra pay for this extra work?

February 2020
Employment disputes Braving the storms: what every employee and employer needs to know about winter commuting

If you run your own business, bad weather can cause chaos when staff can’t get in. What employment law regulations are in place when handling transport troubles in winter?

February 2020
Employment disputes My employer is advertising my job. Where do I stand?

DAS Law’s Lauren Woolf explains what to do if you find out your employer has been advertising your job without informing you that you are being dismissed.

January 2020
General advice , Employment disputes Beware the perils of sharing colleagues’ Christmas party antics on social media

Are people allowed to record and share your more embarrassing moments without your permission? What does the law have to say?

December 2019
Employment disputes , Goods and services disputes All you need to know about tipping

Are we legally obliged to tip? Does that money actually go to the staff or is it kept by the business owner? Thomas Pertaia has the answers.

December 2019