Following the recent case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, ‘ethical veganism’ has been found to be a philosophical belief, and consequently, a protected characteristic under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
What is Ethical Veganism?
‘A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose…’ (The Vegan Society)
Similar to dietary vegans, ethical vegans eat a plant-based diet in addition to avoiding / not using any products that derive from any form of animal exploitation.
What is a Protected Characteristic?
Protected characteristics are grounds upon which discrimination is unlawful and include race, age, disability, sex, pregnancy and maternity, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation, and religion or belief.
The legislation defines ‘belief’ as encompassing a philosophical belief.
What constitutes a philosophical belief?
In determining whether ethical veganism was a philosophical belief, the Tribunal had to consider the relevant criteria, in particular: is the belief worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflicting with fundamental rights of others?
In confirming ethical veganism had satisfied the relevant criteria, Judge Postle’s judgment refers to ‘modern day thinking’ and that ‘it is clear ethical veganism does not in any way offend society, it is increasingly recognised nationally, particularly by the environmental benefits of vegan observance.’
Therefore, as a philosophical belief the law provides a similar protection to ethical vegans as to individuals who hold religious beliefs.
It is worth noting, the League Against Cruel Sports did not dispute that ethical veganism was a protected characteristic. This was a preliminary matter, and the parties now await the hearing on the lawfulness of Casamitjana’s dismissal and treatment.
What does this mean for employers?
This is a first instance decision and is not legally binding. However, employers should note the increased risk of discrimination claims from behavior in the workplace, or a discrimination element being included in dismissal cases.
Now more than ever employers need to be aware and conscious of their employees’ beliefs and provide clear, legitimate reasoning behind their management decisions and overall treatment of employees.
In light of this development, a practical place to start would be to consider current Employee Handbooks and other internal policies / guidance to include reference to ethical veganism.
The case highlights the significant increase of respect society now places on an individual’s beliefs at work. Alongside ‘Veganuary’s’ increasing popularity, Forest Green Rovers becoming the first 100% vegan football club and the commercial success of Greggs’ Vegan Sausage Roll this is part of a greater broadening of awareness and consumer consciousness in terms of their lifestyle choices and the products they consume.
Employers need to keep up to date and aware of the way societal values and consciousness develops, not only to create a working environment that encourages openness and a content workforce, but also to protect themselves from allowing discrimination, both direct and indirect, to go unnoticed.
Should you have any questions regarding Ethical Veganism or require employment law legal advice, contact our specialist employment solicitors on 01483 451 900, email on email@example.com or alternatively make an online enquiry here and we will call you back.