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Case Law: Vegetarianism & Veganism: Protected Characteristics?

In the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and Others, the employment tribunal made a ruling that vegetarianism was not considered to be a protected characteristic under equality law. The basis of this decision was that it did not meet the relevant criteria for establishing a protected philosophical belief.

The above case contrasts to the more recent case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports.

The Claimant alleged that his employment was terminated because he had disclosed to colleagues that the employer’s pension fund invested in firms that were involved in animal testing. He stated that this conduct went against his vegan beliefs in avoiding cruelty to animals and this was discriminatory.

The Claimant successfully argued that his ethical veganism was no different to those who held religious beliefs. For example, he avoided sitting on leather seats and he chose to walk instead of taking public transport to avoid accidental collisions with insects and birds.

Establishing the eligibility of protection was the first part of the test and the second is now establishing the lawfulness of the dismissal.

It should be noted that this mile stone does not automatically mean that all vegan beliefs attract protection of the law. The case demonstrates society’s movement towards accepting a wide and varied understanding as to what constitutes philosophical belief. A further example of this is the matter of Grainger PLC v Nicholson in which it was held that a belief in man-made climate change was a philosophical belief. The Employment Appeal Tribunal in this matter held that, for a philosophical belief to come within the legislation, it must:

  • be genuinely held;
  • be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • 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; and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity and or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

 
The impact of the decision thus far is yet to be seen in the working world, however, employers will need to take the time understand the nature of veganism and consider making adjustments in the workplace to accommodate such philosophical beliefs, such as buying office supplies that have not been animal tested and are eco-friendly.

It is always advisable to seek legal advice in the first instance where matters of potential discrimination arise.

 

Employer solutions 

As a team of employer solutions lawyers, our employment law experts are on hand to answer any questions you may have about discrimination, the implications of these tribunal decisions, and any other case law, on your business. For specialist employment law advice speak to us.

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