Religion and belief: ethical veganism in the workplace
Tribunal holds in Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010.
What qualifies as a protected belief?
The Equality Act (Act) protects against discrimination based on protected characteristics, including “any religious or philosophical belief.” Not all religions or beliefs will be covered by the Act. Whether or not a particular religion or belief is covered will generally be decided by the courts and a number of cases give guidance on this.
In Grainger v Nicholson, the Employment Appeal Tribunal established that a belief will give rise to protection where:
- it is genuinely held;
- it is a belief rather than an opinion;
- it is a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- it attains a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- it is worthy of respect in a democratic society, is not incompatible with human dignity and does not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports
Mr Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct when he drew attention to the fact that his employer invested pension funds in firms involved with animal testing. As an ‘ethical vegan’, he said that veganism affects all aspects of his life and not just his diet, in that he excludes all forms of animal exploitation from his lifestyle.
The Employment Tribunal decided that it was important to make a judicial determination as to whether ethical veganism is capable of protection under the Act (even though this point was conceded by the employer).
Employment Tribunal decision on ethical veganism
The Tribunal found having read vast amounts of evidence as to the Claimant’s lifestyle that he genuinely and sincerely held his beliefs in ethical veganism. It held that ethical veganism carried with it an important moral essential and the Claimant held ethical veganism as a belief which is not simply a viewpoint, but a real and genuine belief.
The Tribunal said it was ‘easy to conclude‘ that there is overwhelming evidence that ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic under the Act. The case will now proceed to a full merits hearing in February 2020 to determine whether the Claimant was dismissed because of his belief in ethical veganism.
What does this mean for employers and employees?
As a first instance decision, this decision does not create a binding precedent. However the law around what constitutes a ‘belief’ for the purposes of the Act looks likely to be an area that is going to continue to develop, especially as societal values change. Employers should remain alive to this by monitoring the impact of workplace policies, practices and procedures to check whether they may offend or cause difficulties for groups of employees with certain beliefs (even if it is not obvious whether they are covered by the Act) and educating managers to keep an open mind about what could constitute a ‘belief’ when managing inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
The judgment in this case establishes the extensive effect that ethical veganism as a system of thought has on a person’s entire way of life which derives from a clear belief, is supported by genuinely held rationale and is clearly related to human life and behaviour. So, vegans wishing to benefit from protection under the Act would need to satisfy the Grainger criteria in a similar way by demonstrating the extent of their belief and the far-reaching effects on their daily life.