Breaking news: Tribunal confirms that discrimination law covers ethical veganism and former employee can pursue his discrimination claim

9th January 2020 Employment

An employment tribunal in Norwich has ruled that an ethical vegan, Jordi Casamitjana, can pursue a discrimination claim against his ex-employer, on the grounds that the philosophical belief in ethical veganism should be protected in the same way as other philosophical or religious beliefs held by employees and workers, and users of goods and services.

This is a ground breaking decision, especially when other claims based on vegetarianism for example have failed to meet the required legal tests for protection in the past. The tribunal’s decision confirms the wide scope of our discrimination laws and that ethical vegans benefit from its protection. 

What happened in the tribunal case?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination and harassment based on nine protected characteristics. One of those characteristics includes religion or belief. In this case, the key issue to be decided was whether ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief and attracts discrimination law protection. 

Most people will be familiar with the term “veganism” but may not know what “ethical veganism” is. It could be argued that the two are not necessarily the same, which means it is not clear if all vegans are now protected under discrimination law – it may well depend on each person’s particular case and the extent of their personal philosophical belief and how embedded it in into their daily life. In this case, the employee’s beliefs were described as affecting much of his everyday life, including not buying any animal products or products which have involved testing on animals in the laboratory, rather than simply eating a wholly plant based diet.

In terms of the background to the case, Mr Casamitjana (“the claimant”) is a former employee of the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). After being sacked by LACS, the claimant brought a tribunal claim and argued that his dismissal was linked to his ethical veganism and discriminatory. In contrast, LACS asserted that the claimant had been dismissed for gross misconduct and that it is wrong to link his dismissal to veganism. 

There is clearly a dispute as to why the claimant was dismissed and whether this was discriminatory or not, which will need to be decided by the tribunal. Before the tribunal can do that, it first had to consider whether the discrimination claim should be allowed to proceed at all and whether ethical veganism was a protected philosophical belief attracting legal protection or not.

In order for a philosophical belief to gain legal protection under the Equality Act 2010, a number of legal tests have to be met, including:

  • The belief must be genuinely held by the individual and attract a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • It must be a belief that concerns a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; 
  • The belief must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others; and
  • It must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

Examples of philosophical beliefs that have previously met these legal tests include a belief in the sanctity of life (extending to a fervent anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing belief) and a belief of public service and the need to engender in others a desire and commitment to serve the community for the common good.

As mentioned earlier, the Claimant’s case concerned the belief of ethical veganism. LACS (an animal welfare charity) did not dispute that ethical veganism should be legally protected, but the issue still had to be determined by the tribunal, applying the appropriate legal tests. 

The Tribunal ruled in the Claimant’s favour and found that ethical veganism does qualify as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 by satisfying the relevant legal tests. At a time when veganism is on the rise, this is an important decision and is expected to have wider implications (discussed below).

What does the decision mean for employers and employees?

This decision will undoubtedly have implications for both employers and employees. This case supports that employees/former employees who are ethical vegans can take action against employers where they suffer discrimination in the workplace, provided they do so within the permitted timeframe. This case could also result in other discrimination claims being brought to test the boundaries of what is sufficient to meet a protected philosophical belief or not. 

Whilst the decision of this employment tribunal does not bind other tribunals, employers should be mindful of it and take steps to try to prevent discrimination occurring in the workplace. Employers may wish to consider updating equal opportunities or anti-discrimination policies to refer to ethical veganism for example, ensure staff training has covered issues of discrimination and/or issue a reminder to staff where appropriate. 

If you need any employment law advice or support in dealing with discrimination issues, please contact Emma James at emma.james@jmw.co.uk. Emma is a Senior Associate in the Employment team at JMW.

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Emma James is a Senior Associate located in Manchesterin our Employment department

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