This is a question on many people’s mind given the recent Tribunal ruling that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief that is protected under the Equality Act.
The ruling follows a claim brought by animal charity welfare worker Jordi Casamitjana, who believes he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports because of his ethical veganism. The League did not dispute that veganism should be protected but says it dismissed Mr Casamitjana for gross misconduct after he disclosed to colleagues that it invested some of its pension fund in firms involved in animal testing. Although the Tribunal has yet to rule on Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal, their ruling is nonetheless significant as it potentially offers ethical vegans protection against discrimination in employment, education and the provision of goods and services, by adding ethical veganism to the list of characteristics that are protected by law.
In this case, the ruling should be treated with a certain amount of caution as it is only a Judgment of the first instance Employment Tribunal and does not have to be followed. However it does give employers guidance as to the likely treatment of ethical veganism were similar claims brought in the Tribunal, and a Company’s workplace behaviour, policies and procedures may need to be adapted accordingly.
It also offers hope to others such as climate change and animal rights activists who could argue that their activism amounted to a philosophical belief. All they would need to establish was that their philosophical belief was genuinely held; concerned a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; was a belief and not just an opinion that was cogent, serious and important, worthy of respect and not incompatible with human dignity nor conflict with the rights of others.
It should be noted though that any person gaining protection for their philosophical belief would still need to establish that any less favourable treatment was because of this belief and not for some other reason, and that there was no real business need justifying any disadvantage they had suffered.
Accordingly, the decision of the Norwich Tribunal on Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal is awaited with interest.
Article by Rachel Lester, Employment Solicitor