In the recent case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd, the Employment Tribunal held that vegetarianism is not a protected characteristic.
The Claimant is a vegetarian and he worked for the Respondent as a waiter for 5 months before resigning. The Claimant brought a claim of discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief, arguing that vegetarianism is a belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010. He stated that he had been subject to discrimination as his colleagues who knew he was a vegetarian gave him snacks that he was told actually contained meat after eating them.
In order for a philosophical belief to be afforded protection under the Equality Act 2010, it must:
- Be a genuinely held belief;
- Not be an opinion or viewpoint,
- Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others; and
- Have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
In addition, the belief does not need to be shared by others.
The Tribunal accepted that the Claimant was a vegetarian and has a genuine belief in his vegetarianism. However, the Tribunal held that the belief was not capable of protection because the belief is not a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. The Tribunal agreed with the Respondent’s argument here that vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour, stating that it is a life style choice and in the Claimant’s view believing that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food.
Furthermore, the Tribunal held that vegetarianism lacked the required level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, due to the fact that the reasons for being a vegetarian differ greatly. The Tribunal stated that vegetarians adopt the practice for different reasons, such as, lifestyle, health, diet, concern about the way animals are reared for food and personal taste.
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 vegetarianism.
Interestingly, in this case the judge contrasted vegetarianism to veganism stating that veganism (as opposed to vegetarianism) may well qualify as a belief capable of protection – while the reasons for being a vegetarian differ greatly among vegetarians, the reasons for being a vegan appear to be largely the same and that there is a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, as opposed to vegetarianism. A case concerning veganism is due to be heard in the Tribunal this week.
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