Veganism – a protected belief under the Equality Act?
In recent years, the UK has seen a surge in interest in veganism – especially at New Year, a time when many people are full of resolutions to improve their health and wellbeing. In fact, over a quarter of a million people signed up to Veganuary in 2019, a month-long pledge to stop eating animal products (including meat, dairy and eggs) during January.
A belief deserving of legal protection
Recent events have shown that ethical veganism is more than just a lifestyle choice, however. In a landmark judgment handed down on 3 January this year, a judge ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, giving followers the same legal protection as those holding religious beliefs.
Jordi Casamitjana, a 55-year-old from London, issued a claim at the employment tribunal after being sacked for gross misconduct, allegedly as a direct result of his disclosure to fellow employees that his employer, animal welfare charity The League Against Cruel Sports, was investing pension funds in companies that tested their products on animals. This, he claimed, amounted to discrimination due to his philosophical belief of ethical veganism.
What is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act?
Philosophical beliefs are one of the nine characteristics protected under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010, which sets out the law preventing discrimination and inequality in the UK. To be protected from discrimination due to a philosophical belief, you must satisfy a range of criteria:
-The belief must be genuinely held;
-It must be a belief, not just an opinion or viewpoint;
-It must concern a “weighty” and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
-The belief should be “worthy of respect in a democratic society” and “not be incompatible with human dignity”; and
-It must be held with “sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.
The judge ruled that Mr Casamitjana’s philosophical belief in ethical veganism satisfied these requirements.
Rulings such as this are not new; in 2009, a judge ruled that an employee’s strong views on the environment should be seen as a philosophical belief worthy of legal protection under the Equality Act. However, the recent ruling marks the first time veganism has been deemed worthy of the same protection in a court of law.
The pressure is now on for employers to be respectful of the beliefs of vegan employees just as they are obliged not to discriminate against other protected characteristics found in the Equality Act 2010.
If you believe you have been discriminated against, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist Employment Law team to discuss your matter.