A recent employment case has highlighted again how discrimination in the workplace can cover many forms, when a man was sacked for, he claims, his ethical vegan beliefs.
Mr Casamitjana worked for an animal welfare charity based in Surrey and informed his manager when he discovered that their pension fund investments included companies that carried out animal testing. Despite the conflict of interest, nothing was done and he informed some other colleagues. He was then dismissed on the grounds of 'gross misconduct'.
Mr Casamitjana however disputes this reason and claims it was because of his vegan beliefs and so he had to 'blow the whistle'. He stated "Whistleblowers have the right not to be dismissed because they have blown the whistle. Where this happens in supposedly ethical organisations, it is all the more egregious. My claim will be that as a result of raising protected disclosures, I suffered a series of detriments, and that the decision to dismiss me was discriminatory on the grounds of my philosophical belief."
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct or indirect discrimination or harassment in the workplace based on nine protected characteristics. One characteristic includes religion or religious belief which further encompasses philosophical belief.In a hearing next March, an employment tribunal will, for the first time, determine whether veganism is a "philosophical belief" protected by law.
The court will have to consider evidence put forward to establish that the philosophical belief is genuine, rather than the validity of a philosophical belief objectively. Grainger plc and others v Nicholson  IRLR 4, gave further guidance as to the interpretation of philosophical belief:
must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint.
- It must be a belief as to a substantial aspect of human life and behavior.
must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with
human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
must "have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief".
- It need not be shared by others.
"support of a political party" does not of itself amount to a
philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine, such as
Socialism, Marxism or free-market Capitalism, may qualify.
philosophical belief may be based on science. If Creationism (which is based on
faith) is protected, Darwinism (which is based on science) "must plainly
be capable of being a philosophical belief".
The court's interpretation of philosophical belief
The court's interpretation of philosophical belief discrimination based on philosophical belief is determined on a case by case basis by employment tribunals. In the past the tribunal has accepted anti fox-hunting, that there is life after death, that the dead can be contacted through mediums, beliefs relating to climate change and the need to cut carbon emissions are all capable of being philosophical beliefs.
The most recent case in the spotlight is that of Mr Jordi Casamitjana's who claims that he was dismissed by his employer because he is an "ethical vegan". For the first time, an employment tribunal will determine whether veganism is a philosophical belief capable of being protected by law. Interestingly, an early draft of the Code of Practice for the Equality Act 2010 included:
"A person who is a vegan chooses not to use or consume animal products of any kind. That person eschews the exploitation of animals for food, clothing, accessories or any other purpose and does so out of an ethical commitment to animal welfare. This person is likely to hold a belief which is covered by the Act." However this was not included in the final version. It is unclear what any particular employment judge may determine amounts to a philosophical belief.
The standard is very subjective. In the case of Mr Casamitjana it is for the individual employee to establish via evidence that veganism amounts to a philosophical belief and is of a great importance and worthy of respect in a democratic society so as to be a protected characteristic.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against, either by a provider of services, goods or facilities or even by your employer, you may be entitled to bring a claim before the courts. Should you require legal advice, please contact our Employment Law Department who can provide specialist guidance and advice - call us or email by using the form to the right.
This article was written by Emel Hamit, Trainee Solicitor 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 October 2018.