Ethical Veganism – What do I need to do?
You have probably seen the widely reported Tribunal case that concluded that Ethical Veganism has been found to be a protected characteristic under Equality Act of 2010. Don’t believe everything you see or hear in the media because they haven’t explained the context of the finding, even though some experts appear to be trying to panic employers into rewriting their policies.
The fact is that an employment tribunal has not just decided that ALL ethical vegans are protected by the Equality Act 2010 in the case of unfair dismissal brought by Mr Casamitjana against his employer, The League Against Cruel Sports.
In needs to be remembered that the employer did not dispute that the employee’s collection of beliefs was wide and all-encompassing, and that cumulatively, this amounted to a philosophical belief. That wasn’t the issue being contested.
Another thing to bear in mind is that other ethical vegans will not have exactly the same set of beliefs as Mr Casamitjana. So even if there had been a finding in his favour, it does not guarantee a finding in favour of other ethical vegans. These will all be decided on the facts of each case. In fact, in another case last year (Conisbee vs Crossley Farms Ltd.) the Claimant brought a claim of discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief, the relevant belief being vegetarianism. The tribunal accepted that the Claimant was a vegetarian and had a genuine belief in vegetarianism and animal welfare. However, it rejected his claim and held that vegetarianism is not capable of amounting to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. It is not enough merely to have an opinion based on logic. The Tribunal said, “The belief must have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs. Clearly, having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not enough in itself for it to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.”
And finally you need to be aware that employment tribunal decisions are not binding on other employment tribunals (or, indeed, other employers) – it is only the case when they are decided at an Employment Appeal Tribunal or other higher court.
The employer has never seriously challenged that Mr Casamitjana had a protected belief. It is contesting his claim on quite different grounds, i.e. that he was dismissed for gross misconduct quite unrelated to ethical veganism. That issue remains is still be heard by a tribunal.
So the answer is, you do not need to make any changes to your policies, but always take advice before disciplining an employee for actions that could be interpreted by others as potentially discriminatory – even though that is not your intention.
Posted on 09 Jan 2020