An Employment Tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism constitutes a belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act 2010. A former employee claimed that he was unfairly dismissed was on the basis of discrimination and the court has agreed that ethical veganism can be considered under the protected characteristic of religion and belief.The ruling was determined in a case brought by Jordi Casamitjana against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, an animal welfare charity, after he raised concerns with colleagues that its pension fund invested in companies involved in animal testing. Whilst Mr Casamitjana states he was dismissed due to his beliefs, the charity insists that he was dismissed fairly on grounds of gross misconduct.
Ethical vegans, like dietary vegans, eat a plant-based diet, but ethical vegans also try to avoid contact with any products that are derived from any form of animal exploitation. It includes not wearing clothing made of wool or leather and not using products tested on animals.
Judge Robin Postle has ruled that ethical veganism satisfies the requirements to be established as a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010. It is unlawful to discriminate against an individual by virtue of an individual holding or not holding a particular philosophical belief.
In order for a belief to be protected, it must meet a number of requirements, this includes the belief being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity, and not contradictory with the fundamental rights of others.
In regard to cases such as this, discrimination risks are determined by identifying if they fall under one of the nine categories under the Equality Act 2010. Religion and belief are just one of nine protected characteristics that are covered by the Equality Act 2010. The full list includes:
Any precedent set by this judgement could prove difficult for many businesses, especially when they don’t fully understand or recognise the risks associated with protected characteristics when considering terminating employment with individuals.
There are increasing risks of employees claiming that discrimination is a factor in their dismissal, so it is always recommended to seek legal support when considering dismissals especially when employees are not obliged to disclose such information after their appointment to the company.
With the abolishment of tribunal fees, it does not cost an employee to take their employer to an employment tribunal, whereas it can be costly for an employer just to defend a claim even before an award is made. Employers should make sure that they act consistently and be mindful of any discrimination argument that an individual may have at an early stage. Obtaining early stage advice on any dismissals and grievances is paramount. Find out more on our Dismissals, Grievances and Settlements Service Page.
If you are a business owner and you are concerned about how this tribunal ruling could affect you or that you wish to discuss any other employment matter then please contact our award winning Employment Law Team.
This article was written by Alex Pearce, Senior Associate in the Employment Law Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of January 2020