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As we come to the end of Veganuary, the newest member of Frettens’ specialist employment team, Chris Dobbs, looks at the recent ruling, in which the Norwich tribunal has decided that ethical veganism amounts to a ‘philosophical belief’, in the case of Jordi Casamitjana against the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS).

What is a philosophical belief?

Philosophical belief is a term used in the Equality Act 2010 which protects against discrimination for any “religious or philosophical belief”.

The difference between Veganism and Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism was not a protected characteristic. It was an opinion and there are various reasons why someone might be vegetarian other than due to a philosophical belief. Purely dietary veganism would likely have a similar standing.

Ethical veganism, however, has a more broadly united belief system that motivates adherents. There is a conscious and unified belief that humans should not engage in practices that are harmful to the welfare of animals whether that is eating meat, keeping pets or more broadly damaging the environment.

What are the implications?

LACS did not contest the view that ethical veganism was a protected belief and this outcome was not a surprise to anyone following the case.

The media have described it as a ‘landmark case’ but it is important to remember that this is a decision made by the Tribunal in first-instance and makes no real change to employment law. The decision is not binding on any other court and could be over-turned on appeal but does provide useful guidance to employers.

Veganism and The Equality Act

What the decision says is that ethical veganism is a protected belief and so can be considered on par with a religion. Adherents to ethical veganism are therefore protected from all forms of discrimination under the Equality Act.

It could pave the way for the kind of claims the media has suggested: supermarket cashiers refusing to handle meat products, claims against the Bank of England for the use of tallow in banknotes; but these too would be first-instance decisions and the tribunal or court handling them could disagree with the Tribunal ruling.

Advice for employers on Veganism in the workplace

Ethical veganism is capable of being a protected belief and employers should be cautious to treat it as such. This is another in a series of steps by the Employment Tribunal to broaden the protection afforded by the Equality Act and employers should be taking these judgements seriously.

Future cases are likely to be concerned with the belief of the particular individual and the manifestation of that belief. However, no employer wants to be the test case so it is important to take the outcome seriously when reviewing workplace practices and policies. Now is a good opportunity to review them and decide if any changes need to happen.

Chris commented: “Employment judges have been careful not to ‘open the floodgates’ but comments in these cases suggests a movement towards protecting more and more diverse views. There are some 600,000 vegans in the United Kingdom and workplaces should be looking to ensure they are not subjected to discrimination in any form: business lunches, social events and workplace harassment are all potential issues.”

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