‘Ethical Veganism’ and Discrimination – What Employers Need to Know

‘Ethical Veganism’ and Discrimination – What Employers Need to Know

Last month the plant-based phenomenon ‘Veganuary’ swept the nation and even appears to have found its way into the hearts of our judiciary. Jordi Casamitjana Costa faced a preliminary hearing in the Norwich Employment Tribunal on 3rd January where he successfully argued that his identity as an ‘Ethical Vegan’ is entitled to statutory protection from discrimination. The much-anticipated judgement comes as part of a discrimination claim against The League Against Cruel Sports (the Respondent) who dismissed Casamitjana on 6 April 2018 following his year-long struggle to move the charity’s pension investments to an ethical pension fund.

In order for the respondent’s actions to be considered discriminatory it must relate to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). Religious and Philosophical beliefs can be protected in this way so long as they pass the ‘Grainger test’. Here we will explore the requirements of this legal threshold, what employers need to be aware of, and hopefully reassure employers that Veganuary might not be so vexing after all.

Genuinely Held Belief

You may have a friend who claims to be a vegan until they are presented with a plate of chicken nuggets. Unsurprisingly, a tribunal would question whether this person really believes in what they claim. While religious beliefs only require the claimant to prove adherence, claimants are required to ‘genuinely hold’ philosophical beliefs and so are likely to be cross-examined on their devotion. The Casamitjana definition of veganism requires the individual to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. Although Casamitjana provided “overwhelming evidence” that this permeated all aspects of his life, this is a very high threshold. It is important to remember, therefore, that following this case ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief but will not be for everyone.

Not an Opinion or Viewpoint

You may have an opinion on veganism just as you may have opinions on any number of people or practices. If your position would change based on the evidence or information available, it is unlikely that this criterion will be satisfied. In the recent case of Conisbee v Crossley the vegetarian claimant was found to be of the opinion that animals should not be killed for food. Casamitjana demonstrates that veganism can be more than merely an opinion, however, it still requires an examination of why that individual is vegan.

Weighty and Substantial Aspect of Human Life and Behaviour

There is little expansion and explanation on this criterion save for common sense and previous examples. In general, beliefs tend to satisfy this criterion where they relate to issues of ethics or human rights or where it encourages certain behaviour. In addition to this judgement, the sanctity of animal life and the importance of sustainability have both previously been successful so it is likely that veganism will continue to succeed here.

Sufficient Cogency, Seriousness, Cohesion and Importance

A philosophical belief must have some semblance of identifiable structure. In this way the Grainger test ensures that the belief itself is demonstrably genuine. Vegetarianism has previously failed to achieve sufficient cogency and cohesion due to the varying reasons and degrees of devotion, while veganism has been suggested to be more consistently based on animal welfare. It is yet to be seen whether a vegan for health or fitness reasons would satisfy this test.

Respectable and Dignified

The final requirement of a philosophical belief is to be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. The neutrality of the first four criteria mean that the nature of the belief itself is not questioned until this stage. It is entirely possible, for example, to see a belief which itself is inherently discriminatory satisfy the first four criteria but fail here because of malicious or insensitive qualities. Ethical veganism is generally likely to succeed here, unless of course the employee also believes all meat-eaters should be imprisoned.

What employers should bear in mind –

  • Discrimination, Harassment and victimisation based on veganism are as serious as any other religion or belief, so it is important to enforce appropriate conduct and respect grievances;
  • Employers should try to accommodate vegan-friendly food options, food storage and workwear but only so far as justifiably proportionate.

Why employers shouldn’t panic –

  • As examined above, there is a thorough threshold in place to evaluate the employee’s belief;
  • A right to your beliefs does not grant a right to impose them on others. Therefore, workplaces do not need to be ‘meat-free’ and vegans who harass others can be disciplined; and
  • Unlike with disability discrimination there is no positive obligation to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for vegans. However, employers are advised to take questions and concerns about accommodating vegans seriously and be considerate and supportive in response.

For more information on ethical veganism , please contact our employment team.

Claire Knowles – Partner

Mark Alaszewski – Associate

Rebecca Mahon – Solicitor

Amelia Wheatstone – Solicitor 

Adam McGlynn – Trainee Solicitor

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