Veganism: The Next Big Test in Employment Law?

We wrote about protected characteristics last month and it comes up time and time again when we speak with our clients.

Veganism has risen rapidly to its current position in today’s society (with Greggs even launching a Vegan sausage roll!) and it is the next big thing to test our employment laws.

An Employment Tribunal will hear a case next month to determine whether the beliefs of an ethical vegan are consistent with the religious or philosophical beliefs currently protected by UK law.

Jordi Casamitjana has raised a claim against his former employer, The League Against Cruel Sports. Jordi was sacked after his disclosure that the company has invested pension funds in firms involving animal testing. As an ethical vegan, he said he was discriminated against on account of his veganism. The charity denied the claim, saying he was fired for gross misconduct. The Employment Tribunal will determine whether veganism is capable of qualifying as a philosophical belief.

What is Veganism?

The Vegan Society uses the following definition:

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude–as far as is possible and practicable–all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

It is worth drawing a distinction between dietary vegans on the one hand (who simply do not eat animal products), and ethical vegans like Mr Casamitjana on the other hand. He argues that the latter is a deeply held philosophy about the rights and dignity of animals which goes far beyond just an eating habit.

But what other philosophical beliefs have previously been afforded or denied legal protection? In 2010, a belief that mankind was heading towards catastrophic climate change and that we were under a moral duty to lead our lives in a manner which mitigated or avoided this catastrophe was afforded protection by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Similarly, in 2009, a belief in the sanctity of life manifesting in a passionate anti-fox hunting and anti-hare coursing belief was also protected by an Employment Tribunal. In contrast, a belief that a poppy should always be worn in early November was held by the Employment Tribunal to be lacking the required cogency, coherence and importance to warrant protection.

We await the outcome from the hearing in March when the employment tribunal will determine whether veganism is a “philosophical belief” protected by law. Mr Casamitjana’s case will be a landmark decision if it goes in his favour.

We will keep you updated.

Should you have any questions feel free to reach out to our help line. DLP advisors are available to answer any questions you may have at 0330 400 4495.

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