Discrimination on Grounds of Ethical Veganism

Posted on 6th February 2020

Employment law provides protection against discrimination in the workplace. In a recent employment tribunal case, it was held that this protection could extend to discrimination relating to a belief in ethical veganism.

The Equality act provides that discrimination on grounds of religion or belief can be unlawful. The definition of a ‘belief’ includes any religious or philosophical belief.
 
The belief must be genuinely held and not simply an opinion or viewpoint. It must relate to weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour and attain a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. It must also be worthy of respect, compatible with human dignity and must not be in conflict with the rights of others.

In the recent employment tribunal case of Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports, Mr Casamitjana claimed that he was an ethical vegan. Ethical veganism extends the focus beyond food to include the exploitation of animals for clothing or any other purpose.

Mr Casamitjana’s case is that he discovered that the staff pension scheme was investing with companies implicated in animal testing. When he found out that alternative ‘ethical’ pension funds were available he sought to alert his colleagues in circumstances where he had been instructed not to do so. Ultimately, he was dismissed and his claims against his employer include discrimination on grounds of his belief.

The matter before the employment tribunal was a preliminary hearing limited to consideration of whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act.
 
In support of its finding that ethical veganism was a protected belief under the Act, the tribunal concluded that the belief carried with it an important moral and recognised that the relationship between humans and other fellow creatures is a substantial aspect of human life with sweeping consequences for human behaviour.
 
In the course of the decision the tribunal noted that Mr Casamitjana’s belief went much further than just dietary considerations and included matters such as not wearing clothes containing animal products, avoiding sitting on leather seats, using vegan friendly electricity that does not use bio fuels from the animal agricultural industry, avoiding using new bank notes manufactured using animal products and not using public transport where possible, to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds.

While there could clearly be implications for employers, it should be noted that this is an employment tribunal decision only at this stage and its decisions are not therefore binding on the higher courts and tribunals. The case was also decided on its specific facts and does not provide a general principle that all forms of veganism constitute a philosophical belief. Finally, this decision only related to the preliminary issue of whether or not ethical veganism constitutes a protected belief. The next question to be determined on another day is whether or not there was any unlawful discrimination.
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