In the recent case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, an Employment Tribunal ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief that is protected by law against discrimination.
In this case, the Claimant, Mr Casamitjana claimed that he was unfairly dismissed by the Respondent, an animal welfare charity, as a result of him being an ethical vegan. This followed him raising concerns that the charity’s pension fund invested in companies involved in animal testing. The charity however asserted that the Claimant was in fact dismissed for gross misconduct for reasons that were wholly unrelated to his veganism.
By way of background, an ethical vegan is someone who not only follows a vegan diet but extends the philosophy into other areas of their lives (i.e. not wearing clothing made of wool or leather), and opposes the use of animal produce for any purpose. This extended to him not using public transport in case of accidental crashes with insects or birds.
Before deciding whether or not the Claimant was unfairly dismissed, the Employment Tribunal had to determine whether ethical veganism amounted to a philosophical belief capable of protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
What is a protected philosophical belief?
Guidance issued by the Employment Appeal Tribunal states that in order for a belief to constitute a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010, an individual must establish that:
- The belief is genuinely held;
- The belief must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
- The belief concerns a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- The belief has a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- The belief is worthy of respect in a democratic society and is not incompatible with human dignity and does not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Employment Tribunal decision
The Employment Tribunal held that ethical veganism satisfied the test set out above and therefore ruled that it does amount to a protected philosophical belief capable of protection within the field of employment against discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
This decision is only a first instance decision and therefore is not binding on other tribunals. However, the case illustrates how tribunals are approaching religion or belief claims based on veganism.
It is important to note that not all vegans will receive protection. Mr Casamitjana’s life revolved around and was heavily dictated by his veganism. Those who simply adopt a vegan diet but do not share such stringent vegan values, are unlikely to satisfy the legal requirements.
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