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 2018 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 your boss force you to work the August Bank Holiday?

Can you refuse to work on a bank holiday? DAS Law’s Hannah Parsons outlines your rights.

August 2019
Employment disputes , Goods and services disputes , Professional services disputes Is the customer always right when it comes to alcohol and pregnancy?

A recent Reddit post sparked debate on personal accountability and the rights of serving staff when it comes to alcohol. Larna Mason explains what the law says.

August 2019
Employment disputes What employers should do during a heatwave

What are an employer's obligations to employees when the weather gets too hot? Hannah Parsons gives the lowdown.

July 2019
Employment disputes , Protecting your business How working time regulations can limit your employees’ hours

A study by French researchers has highlighted some of the health risks faced by those working long hours. Sarah Garner, Solicitor at DAS Law, looks at the specific rules and regulations regarding the working day.

July 2019
Employment disputes When should a condition be classified as a disability?

DAS Law Senior Associate and Legal Executive Tessa Faverty considers this crucial question, drawing on her professional expertise, and personal experience.

June 2019
Employment disputes Can an employer ban working from home?

A recent ban on working from home at BNY Mellon raised questions about what an employee’s rights are when it comes to working from home.

June 2019
Employment disputes Scope of ‘injury to feelings’ expanded by employment tribunal

In employment law, awards for ‘injury to feelings’ have historically been permitted only in claims linked to discrimination, whistleblowing, and trade union membership, but the situation may now have changed.

May 2019
Employment disputes , Protecting your business When can company directors be personally liable?

The recent High Court case of Antzuzis & Others v DJ Houghton Catching Services & Others is a stark reminder of how company directors can be personally liable for their acts.

May 2019
Employment disputes 10 employment law changes to look out for

Hayley Marles highlights ten changes that HR professionals & business owners need to be aware of, including Brexit immigration rule changes.

April 2019
Employment disputes , Protecting your business 6 tips for giving your business a “spring clean”

Are your staff handbooks up-to-date? Are your staff taking all of their holiday allowance? Give your business a spring clean with these six tips for a clean and tidy SME.

April 2019
Employment disputes Don’t get in trouble with the law on April Fool’s Day

When does the line between hilarious and harsh get crossed and can a prank turn into legal proceedings?

March 2019
Employment disputes What to do if your employer stops you working from home

Lindsey Hunt, Legal Adviser at DAS Law, provides some insight regarding employees and their right to work from home.

March 2019
Employment disputes The Big Gig Rejig – what employers should know about the gig economy

DAS Law Solicitor John Griffiths explains what the ‘gig economy’ means and how businesses can help themselves today when it comes to clearly defining the status of their people.

March 2019