An employment tribunal has held that vegetarianism is not protected by discrimination legislation. This is not binding on other tribunals which may come to a different view.
Mr Conisbee, a vegetarian, was employed by Crossley Farms Ltd for five months before he resigned. He claimed that his vegetarianism is a "belief" and that he had suffered discrimination because of this belief. At a preliminary hearing, an employment tribunal considered whether vegetarianism is protected by discrimination legislation.
In a previous case, the EAT gave the following guidance on what constitutes a "belief" for the purposes of being protected as a religious or philosophical belief:
- The belief must be genuinely held.
- It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
- It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
- It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
- It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
- It must "have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief".
- It need not be shared by others.
Considering this guidance, the tribunal accepted that Mr Conisbee had a genuine belief in his vegetarianism and that the practice of vegetarianism is worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others. However, it considered that:
- Vegetarianism is a life-style choice, and is not about human life and behaviour.
- Vegetarians adopt the practice for many different reasons, including lifestyle, health, diet, concern about the way animals are reared, and personal taste. This does not reach the necessary level of cogency and cohesion.
- Having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not, in itself, sufficient for the belief to have a similar status or cogency as a religious belief.
Accordingly, the tribunal held that vegetarianism is not protected as a belief. The tribunal distinguished vegetarianism from veganism, and the judge in this case would likely have found veganism constitutes a "belief", capable of protection from discrimination.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR EMPLOYERS?
As this is a tribunal decision, it is not binding on other tribunals. The case demonstrates how tribunals might treat future claims by vegetarians who claim they should be protected from discrimination. However, it is also possible that another judge would find that vegetarianism is a protected "belief", not least because climate change has already been found to be a protected belief and some vegetarians may eat as they do because of the impact of cattle farming on the environment among other reasons. This is certainly an area that is likely to be revisited over the coming years.
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