How veganism could soon be protected by law

In March this year, an employment tribunal will have the task of deciding whether veganism is 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.

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