30th Oct 2019

Should vegetarianism and veganism be protected under equality law?

Vegetarianism and veganism are growing in popularity when it comes to people’s eating choices and lifestyles, but can they amount to a philosophical belief, and therefore protection from discrimination? Click here to find out more.

In the Equality Act 2010 there are nine “protected characteristics”. These are the grounds on which an employer / employee cannot discriminate, and include, for example, sex, race, disability.

Another one of these characteristics is religion/belief. To be covered under the heading of ‘belief’, the issue must be a philosophical belief which is more than an opinion and it must be genuinely held. It must be cogent, serious and apply to an aspect of human life or behaviour.

Here are a couple of cases to recently hit the headlines on this issue:

Connisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd

The Facts - Mr Conisbee, worked for Crossley Farms Ltd, at their Fritton Arms hotel. He was a vegetarian and throughout employment was given snacks that he was subsequently told had meat in them. This included a croissant covered with duck fat and a pudding containing gelatine.

Following being berated for wearing a creased shirt, Mr Conisbee resigned and claimed direct discrimination and harassment against his employer and its’ employees.

The Claimant argued his vegetarianism was a philosophical belief and satisfied the test above. His claim centred on the fact the decision to preserve the life of animals satisfied the genuine and substantial aspects of the test and the fact more than 20% of the world’s population is vegetarian meant the belief was sufficiently cogent.

Crossley Farms argued that not all vegetarians hold the belief that animal life should be preserved. Some are vegetarian for dietary reasons, others personal taste, some as part of a religion/sect of religion.

The Decision The Employment Tribunal rejected Mr Cosnisbee’s claim.

It held that whilst his  beliefs were admirable and genuinely held, it did not satisfy the criteria to be a protected philosophical belief.

However, in reaching his decision the Employment Judge hinted that he might conclude that veganism to be a protected belief, as it covered the way animals were reared and encompassed environmental concern, as well as animal welfare.

Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (LACS)

The Facts - In contrast to the case above, this was a claim concerning Mr Casamitjana’s ethical vegan beliefs and the extent to which they influenced LACS’s decision to dismiss him from his employment.

Mr Casamitjana claimed his veganism was more than a mere lifestyle choice and met all the relevant legal criteria because his belief in veganism was based on ethical principles. 

LACS initially contested that Mr Casamitjana’s veganism was sufficient to amount to a philosophical belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act, but later conceded the point and so the original tribunal hearing that had been scheduled earlier this year did not go ahead. 

The Decision - Not yet, Instead, the case will now proceed to a full hearing to determine whether his veganism did, in fact, cause or contribute to Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal.

We’ll keep you updated as and when we know the outcome. Although our predictions are that the tribunal will find that veganism has the potential to be a protected belief. 

Action Points

So, what are the learning and action points you can take away from these cases, and apply to your business and staff:

  • Always remember that each case is dependent on its’ own facts and circumstances. If faced with a similar claim by an employee, be aware to the fact that veganism could be a protected as a philosophical belief – so don’t disregard and assume that it will not. Other “beliefs” put forward by Claimants in the past as “protected” include, anti-fox hunting, climate change and membership of the BNP.
  • These cases are a helpful reminder that day to day “banter” about these kinds of beliefs, may be unwanted and lead to claims by the recipient of bullying and harassment, as well as discrimination.
  • Treat any such claim by an employee seriously and investigate properly, in line with your relevant policy, for example, grievance, equality and/or disciplinary.
  • In any future training to staff on equality and diversity, or when next updating your equal opportunities policy, ensure that you flag up these developments and their potential to be a protected characteristic.

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