When news recently broke about an employee’s claim that he was discriminated against because of his ‘ethical vegan’ beliefs, discussions were sparked about an employers’ responsibilities towards employees who have specific dietary requirements like veganism.
Employees may have various food needs for many reasons, and employers should consider how they are able to accommodate individual. For example, dietary requirements can be heavily influenced by an employee’s religious beliefs as well as any medical conditions.
Employers who provide food on their premises by way of a staff canteen should make sure there are suitable options available for everyone. Dishes containing meat and other animal products will naturally be unsuitable for vegans and vegetarians, therefore it is important to ensure there is always an alternative option available. You should also consider the needs of employees who have food related allergies, ensuring products containing ingredients such as dairy, nuts and gluten, for example, are clearly identified.
Food options at work related meetings should also be as inclusive as possible with options for all employees to choose from. There is no requirement to provide food which is religion-specific if this would be disproportionate, although a vegetarian option is likely to be a minimum requirement.
Some staff may also be prohibited from consuming alcohol on account of their religious beliefs. Employers who traditionally offer a bottle of celebratory champagne as a reward for sealing an important deal, or for reaching work related milestone, may have to think again to ensure those affected are still suitably recognised for their efforts. With Christmas approaching, employers may choose to give staff a small gift in the spirit of the season as a token of their appreciation. However, they should again consider how inclusive certain gifts are. Whilst many employees would welcome the gift of a turkey to save them having to buy one themselves, those who don’t eat meat will not. A bottle of wine or whisky will, again, be unsuitable for employees with certain religious beliefs or those who cannot drink alcohol because of an illness they suffer from. For this reason, employers should include alternative gifts of a similar value, for example, shopping vouchers.
The same principle on food and drink should apply to events arranged outside of the normal working environment such as business meetings or Christmas parties. Ringing ahead to ensure that a chosen restaurant offers vegetarian or vegan options and ensuring sufficient non-alcoholic drinks are available may be advisable.
With the ever increasing demands placed on HR professionals at work, issues such as dietary requirements can occasionally slip off the radar. However, employers should keep a close eye on any practices that may disadvantage those with specific dietary requirements, remaining in open communication with affected employees.