Following our previous blog, there has been an update on the case of Jordi Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports. On 3 January 2020, the Employment Tribunal ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a 'philosophical belief' under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act).
In order to be protected by the Act, a 'philosophical belief' must be:
- genuinely held;
- a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
- a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- a belief with a certain level of cogency, seriousness, coherency and importance; and
- a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society, which is not incompatible with human dignity and does not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
The ruling only applies to 'ethical vegans'. Ethical vegans are usually distinguished from 'health vegans', who follow a plant-based diet for dietary reasons, as ethical veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation, in food, clothing or any other purpose.
The Tribunal's judgment was that it was 'satisfied overwhelmingly' that ethical veganism constituted a philosophical belief under the above criteria. Whilst Employment Tribunal judgments are not binding, this judgment reflects the expanding approach towards the definition of 'philosophical belief'; the Employment Tribunal and Employment Appeal Tribunal have previously recognised both belief in man-made climate change and the belief in the sanctity of life as capable of protection under the Act. In contrast in 2019 vegetarianism was found not to be a protected belief (Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd & Ors ) on much the same grounds as being a vegan for health reasons alone was not considered to be sufficient to qualify.
The ruling does not mean that Mr Casamaitjana will win his case. It simply means that it will be able to proceed. He will need to show that there was a sufficient link between his ethical veganism and his treatment at work.
Employees found to hold a belief that is protected under the Act will be protected by law from discrimination in the workplace. The number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled in the last four years and it is important that employers continue to remain sensitive to their employees' ethical choices in order to avoid opening themselves up to claims of discrimination on the basis of philosophical belief. Practical steps that employers should consider following this decision include:
- updating Equality and Diversity Policies;
- offering vegan options in staff canteens;
- reviewing the material of staff uniforms;
- reminding employees that discriminatory action or remarks can result in disciplinary action.
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