Vegans and vegetarians and discrimination at work
Posted by Jane on Jan 28, 2020
We’re used to seeing potential discrimination cases that hinge on ethnicity, colour, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age and so on. These are protected characteristics and it is illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee based on any of these attributes.
However, the position on certain other characteristics is less clear. Religion, for example, has seen a good deal of debate and legal interpretation, including the wearing of symbols as part of an employer’s dress code. And now, in a couple of high-profile UK cases, veganism and vegetarianism are up for consideration.
To determine a standpoint, we should look at past legal cases. In 2005, in the case of R. v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others, it was stated that a protected belief must be, “serious, coherent and important, as well as consistent with basic standards of human dignity.” Meanwhile, as early as 1982, in the case of Campbell and Cosans v. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights stated that protected beliefs must be, “worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
Conisbee v. Crossley Farms Ltd and others
A very recent decision on the matter of vegetarianism at work was handed down by the Norwich Employment Tribunal. Conisbee was a waiter at the Fritton Arms in Suffolk. His tribunal was based on a claim of bullying, arguing that his vegetarianism is a protected characteristic and he was bullied for not eating meat.
The judge’s decision was that vegetarianism is not a protected “religion or philosophical belief” under the Equality Act 2010 because the reasons for not eating meat are various, from idealist to pragmatic. The lack of a cogent and coherent philosophy unifying vegetarianism excludes it from falling under the legislation. However, the judge did observe that unlike vegetarianism, veganism might meet the criteria of being a philosophical belief and thus be protected. Which brings us to…
Casamitjana v. The League against Cruel Sports
This case is still awaiting hearing but the facts would seem to fall within the criteria outlined in the previous case. Casamitjana claims his dismissal from the League against Cruel Sports was due to his vegan beliefs, specifically for raising concerns about the League’s pension fund being invested in companies involved in animal testing. Potentially, Mr. Casamitjana might be encouraged by an earlier case (Grainger v. Nicholson) which found that a belief in manmade climate change can be a philosophical belief. Given that the tribunal will have to decide whether the Equality Act applies, this is likely to be a landmark decision on the subject of veganism.
So, the question appears to be settled for the vegetarians but not-quite-so for the vegans. Certainly for Mr. Casamitjana, if he can prove the connection between veganism and dismissal, the earlier case offers some hope, with the judge stating that there is, “clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief,” which could open the floodgates to testing all kinds of characteristics and whether they should be ‘protected’ or not.
There may be busy times ahead for the Employment Appeal Tribunal…
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