Case update | Protection of ethical veganism as a philosophical belief – what does this actually mean in the workplace?
Everyone will be aware of the widely publicised decision made by the Employment Tribunal that ethical veganism was held to amount to a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The finding in the case of Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports has received significant attention from both employers and legal advisers considering what the implications of this decision are in the workplace.
The claimant in this case, Mr Casamitjana, brought a claim against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, on the basis that he was dismissed and discriminated against due to his beliefs as an ethical vegan. No decision has been made yet in respect of whether his employer did in fact discriminate against him. To do so, the Tribunal first needed to decide at a Preliminary Hearing whether ethical veganism can be protected as a philosophical belief. There are various tests that must be satisfied for a belief to be considered a ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act (in accordance with the test as set out in Grainger plc v Nicholson). In applying these tests to Mr Casamitjana’s case the Tribunal found that his belief was more than an opinion or viewpoint, that it had a weighty and substantial effect on his everyday life, that it was a belief that obtained a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance and was worthy of respect in a democratic society. The strength of Mr Casamitjana’s belief and the impact it had on his daily life was an important factor. The Tribunal considered factors such as the fact that the claimant’s diet was 100% vegan and that he would not allow any products containing animal product into his home, he does not wear any clothing or use any products derived from animals, he tries to walk in favour of taking public transport to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds and he tries to pay with credit cards or coins (rather than notes which have been manufactured using animal products). The Tribunal also put weight on the fact that philosophically, ethical veganism finds its roots in the tenets Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism.
Comment: Based on the above considerations, it is perhaps not as surprising as it initially seemed that ethical veganism was found to be a protected characteristic. We anticipate that the impact of this decision on employers and the workplace will be varied.
On one hand the scope of the decision is limited as it is not binding on any other courts or tribunals. This means that any future claim based on ethical veganism would require the same fact based analysis of the strength of the claimant’s beliefs to determine whether they did in fact merit protection under the Equality Act. It doesn’t guarantee protection for all ethical vegans who may have varied sets of beliefs. However, on the other hand this decision is a reminder that the meaning of a ‘philosophical belief’ could potentially be wide ranging and could conceivably be applied to beliefs such as environmentalism. Further, employers would be well advised to consider the increased risk of challenge to their practices, procedures and policies if they do not take into account ethical veganism (in the same way as they would take into account other protected characteristics such as religious belief). Policies and training on conduct in the workplace should include provisions preventing discrimination, harassment or victimisation relating to such beliefs. Employers may consider whether vegan food or product alternatives should be provided to employees and whether to offer ethical investment options for employee pension schemes.
Given the status of ethical veganism as a philosophical belief, employers may also come up against the difficult issue of employees who hold ethical vegan beliefs trying to influence other employees inappropriately. The League Against Cruel Sports alleges that this is the reason for Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal. It will therefore be interesting to see how the Tribunal approaches this issue at the full merits hearing due to take place in February 2020.
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Justin Terry is an employment managing associate
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