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Jessica  Clough
Jessica Clough,
TRAINEE CHARTERED LEGAL EXECUTIVE
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Is veganism a protected characteristic?
04 December 2018

Considerable press attention has this week been given to the story of Mr Casamitjana, the vegan sacked from his job at the League Against Cruel Sports.

He has brought an Employment Tribunal claim for discrimination, due to be heard in March 2019, on the basis that his dismissal was because of his vegan beliefs. His former employer meanwhile maintains he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

This case has raised the question of whether being vegan can amount to a “religious or philosophical belief”, such that it should be a protected characteristic under disability discrimination legislation.

Is veganism a “philosophical belief”?

This case may be the first to determine if veganism can amount to a philosophical belief.

Veganism is booming, with the number of people identifying themselves as vegan rising from 150,000 in 2014 to 600,000 in 2018 (according to the Vegan Society, based on Food Standards Agency, National Centre for Social Science Research and Ipsos Mori research). However, numbers alone are not enough to make a protected “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act – after all, 390,000 people declared their religion to be “Jedi” under the 2001 census and, despite this, it is not a protected philosophical belief.

In order for a philosophical belief to attract the protection of discrimination legislation under the Equality Act 2010 it must: 

  • Be genuinely held
  • Be a belief, not just an opinion or viewpoint
  • Have attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society
  • Not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict the fundamental rights of others
  • Have similar status or cogency to a religious belief
  • It does not however have to be shared by others

In 2009, the Equality and Human Rights Commission draft Code of Practice, designed to accompany the Equality Act 2010, gave being a vegan as an example of a potential philosophical belief; stating: “a person who is a vegan… that person eschews the exploitation of animals… and does so out of ethical commitment to animal welfare. This person is likely to hold a belief which is covered by the Act”.

However, this wording was not included in the final version of the Code after the Equality Office stated that, in the government’s view, veganism was not to be a philosophical belief, but that it was a matter for the Courts to decide.

Since then, case law has determined that the belief in the sanctity of life, including anti-fox hunting and hare-coursing, could qualify as a protected philosophical belief, but the explicit question of veganism has not been dealt with before.

Will this case change the law?

Even if Mr Casamitjana is able to prove his vegan beliefs should be protected by the Equality Act, the Court will still have to decide if they were the reason for his dismissal. If his beliefs were unconnected to his dismissal (as his employer maintains), then he will not have been unfairly discriminated against and lose the case.

If he does win the case, a first instance decision does not create a binding precedent that other cases would be obliged to follow - that would only arise if and when this, or any other case were appealed and a decision made by the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

In any event, it is an interesting point of law and we will wait and see what decision is made by the Tribunal.

To read the original news article click here

If you are interested in finding out more about protecting your business against discrimination claims, please contact the employment team at [email protected].

For those managers interested in refreshing or updating their knowledge of employment law (including discrimination), we are running a full day training session on 28 February 2019. Click here for more information.


 

Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.

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