As 350,000 people worldwide are predicted to sign up to Veganuary 2020 – are their rights protected under the Equality Act 2010?
ARTICLE BY ABIGAIL LENART
The Vegan Society commissioned Ipsos Mori in 2016 to poll 10,000 people on their dietary habits and found that there were around 540,000 vegans in the UK. If the predictions of charity ‘Veganuary’ are accurate in the number of people pledging to try veganism in January, this number is likely to increase.
Veganism is defined by the Vegan Society as:
‘A way of living which seeks 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.’
However, a rise in the number of vegans does not necessarily mean that it would automatically be recognised as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 (“the 2010 Act”).
Is veganism a legally protected characteristic?
For veganism to attract the protections of discrimination legislation under the 2010 Act, it has to be recognised as a philosophical belief. The belief must, as defined by Harron v Dorset Police:
- 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 compatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others.
The Tribunal in that case also commented that the bar should not be set too high but that the belief must be more than trivial and not purely held in the workplace.
Interestingly, veganism was used as an example in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Draft Code of Practice designed to accompany the 2010 Act but it was not included in the final version.
In the case of Grainger plc v Nicholson, the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that philosophical beliefs about the environment and climate change could be a protected belief, if genuinely held. The Tribunal, in reaching this view had regard to human rights cases such as W v UK – whereby a vegan inmate was successful in a claim in relation to the refusal by a UK prison to exempt him from working in the print room, where non-vegan inks were used.
In the Tribunal decision in September 2019 of Mr G Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd & Others, whereby the Claimant brought a discrimination against his employer due to his vegetarianism, it was found that vegetarianism a lifestyle choice and did not qualify as a belief under the 2010 Act. The reasoning included that people might be vegetarian for different reasons, including personal taste, lifestyle, health or animal welfare concerns. However, the Tribunal did hint that veganism may qualify as a ‘philosophical belief’ because “the reasons for being a vegan appear to be largely the same.”
More recently, Jordi Casamitjana, who describes himself as an ‘ethical vegan,’ has brought a claim against his former employer, League Against Cruel Sport, for unfair dismissal after disclosing to other employees that its pension fund was being invested in companies that are involved with animal testing. It should be noted that his employer refutes this and purports that he was dismissed from his position due to gross misconduct.
In this case, Jordi Casamitjana has sought for the tribunal to find that ethical veganism is to be legally recognised as a philosophical belief and thereby attract the protection of discrimination legislation.
If the Tribunal does find that veganism is to be recognised as a philosophical belief, it would not be a binding decision that other Tribunals would be obliged to follow until this, or a similar case were appealed to the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Further, in this instance, for Jordi Casamitjana, the Tribunal will still have to determine the issue as to why he was dismissed and whether those reasons were connected to his philosophical belief.
Therefore, at first blush it might seem that this is a landmark decision which could provide clarity. However, at best, this decision will only provide guidance as to how a Tribunal might view veganism.
With the unequivocal rise in people adopting an ethical vegan lifestyle, it is important that clarity is sought as to whether their lifestyle is protected against discrimination. It is also essential for an employer to know what measures to put in place for their employees to ensure that they are complying with the Act, for example, vegan options at the workplace canteen and ensuring vegan employees do not have leather seats.
The next step is to await
the Tribunal’s decision in Casamitjana v
League Against Cruel Sports.
Case Numbers 3101466/2013 and 3100607/2014.
  IRLR 4 (EAT).
 9749/82, ECHR, 28/01/1986, A121.
 Case Number: 3335357/2018.
 Ibid Paragraph 41.