Ethical vegan tribunal could open floodgates for other beliefs

The ethical vegan tribunal which took place on the 3/1/20 could open the floodgates to claims from employees with other types of convictions arguing that their belief should also be recognised as a “philosophical belief”.

Ethical veganism is a “philosophical belief” and is therefore protected by law, specifically the Equality Act 2010.

Jordi Casamitjana, who was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports, as he claims due to his ethical veganism was “really, really satisfied” when he heard the judge’s ruling on ethical veganism.

Mr Casamitjana was let go from the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund invested in companies that tested on animals. As this did not seem to spark his bosses’ attention, he then told other colleagues and was then sacked.  The company claim he was fired for gross misconduct.

Katie Maguire, an employment partner at Devonshires a national law firm, said:

This ruling could open the floodgates to claims from people with other types of belief arguing that their belief should also be recognised as a philosophical belief. For example, vegetarianism, feminism, pacifism and socialism could argue this. Until this judgment the Employment Tribunal has taken a narrow approach as to what is a “belief”. Indeed, in September 2019 vegetarianism was rejected by the Tribunal as being a “belief” on the basis it was considered that it did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; did not attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and did not have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.

The judgment that ethical veganism is a belief opens up the Tribunal’s decision on vegetarianism to challenge. There is now the potential for a wider interpretation as to what a “belief” is and therefore potentially widens the protection given under the Equality Act 2010.

This ruling fundamentally moves the goalposts as it means ethical veganism now has protected characteristic status and those adhering to this philosophy can seek to argue that they have been discriminated against because of their veganism belief. The amount of compensation possible for discrimination claims is uncapped. This means that employers are likely to see more claims of discrimination brought. Only time will tell how big an impact this judgment will have.

Barry Ross, director at Crossland Employment Solicitors explained that as this is the judgement of the first instance Employment Tribunal it does not necessarily have to be followed and does not implement any change in law.

Mr Ross said:

While this decision is not a surprise to many academics and commentators, it is important to remember that this is the judgment of the first instance Employment Tribunal. It does not have to be followed and does not implement any change in the law. It does give employers guidance in relation to the likely treatment of ethical veganism before the Employment Tribunal and as such, the types of steps they should be considering for their employees and the workplace.

On a practical level, employers will likely look to update their equal opportunities policies and procedures to make it clear that ethical veganism should be considered as a philosophical belief and to ensure that ethical vegans are afforded the same protections as employees with other religious or philosophical beliefs such as Christians or Muslims, for example. Many employers may think about the types of products and services used by companies in the workplace, from vegan friendly food options in the cafeteria to uniform and furniture choices avoiding wool or leather, as well as the type of soap or other toiletries used, ensuring that they have not been tested on animals.

Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula said how this decision does give some useful tips on the legal protection that ethnical veganism.

Ms Palmer said:

Although a first instance decision that could still be appealed, this long-awaited ruling provides useful commentary on the level of legal protection that ethnical veganism should receive in the workplace.

Specifically, in the tribunal’s view, it should be considered unlawful to treat individuals less favourably at work because of this belief. This decision stands to have a considerable impact on the protections afforded to ethical vegan employees and employers should be ready for this.

Crucially, businesses will now need to treat ethical veganism the same as any religion, or similar qualifying philosophical belief, or face a potential direct or indirect discrimination claim from ethical vegans in their employ.

In light of this ruling, employers may want to consider reviewing how they support ethical vegans in their company, and if any changes are required.

A Crossland Employment Solicitors study this year found that 45 per cent of vegans feel discriminated against by employers. Almost a third (31 per cent) feel harassed at work or unfairly treated due to their veganism and nearly half (48 per cent) of employers do not do anything to accommodate vegans such as vegan food in the canteen or supplying toiletries free from animal testing.

The 1st November is World Vegan Day and last year, research from Indeed found the amount of job postings with the word ‘vegan’ in its title has risen by 284 per cent since 2016 and adverts with the word ‘vegan’ in the job description has increased by 276 per cent since 2017.