Despite the risk of fuelling the on-going culture war, a recent Employment Tribunal decision has ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010. But why, and how, has the Employment Tribunal made this decision? Far from ‘making up its own laws’, the Tribunal Judge followed a process of assessing the weight of a Claimant’s belief laid down in case law.
Ethical vegans exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle. This includes avoiding all food, clothing, toiletries or other products that involve the use of animals. In his claim, Mr Jordi Casamitjana Costa alleged that his former employer The League Against Cruel Sports subjected him to direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in their actions that led to his dismissal.
In order to succeed in his claim, Mr Casamitjana had to first satisfy the Employment Tribunal that his belief in ethical veganism should be afforded protection under the provisions of the Equality Act 2010. When considering any belief the Tribunal assess the characteristics of a Claimant’s belief with reference to the test outlined in Grainger v Nicholson  IRLR 4. The factors to consider are that:-
- The belief must be genuinely held,
- It must be a belief and not merely an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available,
- It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour,
- It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and
- It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
While the Claimant’s former employer was apparently happy to concede that ethical veganism was a belief that should be afforded protection from discrimination, the Employment Judge preferred to make his own assessment. As reported by the BBC, he found that ethical veganism satisfied the above tests and was ‘satisfied overwhelmingly that ethical veganism does constitute a philosophical belief’.
Casamitjana v The league Against Cruel Sports should be noted by employers and those who represent employers as further cases may result in similar outcomes. An employer may now receive advice that they should not treat ethical vegans in their employment less favourably because of this belief, and any provision, criterion or practice may result in a finding of indirect discrimination if pursued by an employee.
In the evolution of employment law, it was natural that an Employment Tribunal would face this particular belief eventually and although the decision may appear radical, the practice of assessing the beliefs held by employees is laid down in case law. As we know, in our society we do not live by a permanent and limited range of principles and values. We appreciate that different beliefs and philosophies may become more prominent in our culture. The test laid out in Grainger allows the law to reflect this and protect individuals from discrimination.