Are My Vegan Employees Protected by the Equality Act 2010?

Year Published: 2020

This question regarding vegan employees has been asked many times by employer clients in response to the recent case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports and it is certainly an interesting subject.

In this case, the Claimant, Mr Jordi Casamitjana, alleged that he was dismissed from employment on account of his “ethical” veganism and therefore his dismissal was an act of discrimination. However, his employer maintained that he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

In January 2020, a Preliminary Hearing was carried out to discuss this case. The Employment Tribunal held that “ethicalveganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and it is therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010.

The case of Casamitjana has been widely reported across the news and social media as a “landmark case”, with many reports stating that vegans are now protected by the Equality Act 2010.

One employer client received a copy of The Vegan Society guide “Supporting Veganism in the Workplace”. This guide states:

“In the case between Mr Jordi Casamitjana and the League Against Cruel Sports, the employment tribunal confirmed that the beliefs of vegans meet the legal test. Therefore, employers must ensure that they do everything they can to avoid discriminating, either directly or indirectly, against vegans”.

It is important for employers to note that the Tribunal found that ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010. The Judgment states that ethical vegans are people who:

  • have chosen to live, as far as possible, without the use of animal products;
  • are moralistically orientated and opposed to all forms of exploitation of all animals and to embody genuine concern for all sentient life;
  • live according to a belief or conviction that it is wrong to exploit and kill living beings unnecessarily and that moral conviction is cogent, serious and important.

In the above case, the Claimant showed that:

  • being an “ethical” vegan dictated his choices from the products and services he consumed;
  • his diet is 100% vegan and if he is unsure of the content of food products, he avoids them;
  • he does not consume any product that contains animal products, including additives, and does not keep any such products in his home;
  • he would not allow non-vegan food to be brought into his home by another person;
  • he will not consume food that he believes may have harmed animals in any way during production, i.e. figs, which are linked to a microscopic wasp;
  • he will not buy or use any product that has been tested on animals;
  • he does not wear any clothes, shoes, hats or fashion accessories that contain animal products of any kind;
  • he will take reasonable steps to ensure that any financial products that invest in pharmaceutical companies are avoided if tested on animals;
  • he would not visit or attend zoos, circuses, animal fights, animal races or any form of spectacle with live animals;
  • since becoming a vegan, he has only worked in the field of animal protection;
  • since becoming a vegan, he does not live with any companion animal;
  • he tries to avoid sitting on leather seats or holding onto leather straps;
  • he participates in animal protection marches, demonstrations and protests and gives speeches at these events;
  • where possible, he will avoid social gatherings if the food served is non-vegan;
  • since becoming a vegan, he has not dated anyone who was not a vegan and he would not share a property with anyone who was not a vegan;
  • if his destination is within an hour walking distance, he would normally walk there to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds when on public transport;
  • when paying for purchases, he will use credit cards or coins to avoid using notes, which have been manufactured using animal products.

Given the above, the Tribunal found that the Claimant held “ethical” veganism as a belief which concerned the relationship between individuals and other living things in diet, clothing, consumption, travel, and many other aspects of daily life/living. It was not a viewpoint, but a real and genuine belief.

What Does This Case Mean for Employers?

The Judgment does not mean that all vegans will have protection under the Equality Act 2010 as the protection extends to “ethical” vegans only.

Judge Postle, Employment Tribunal, said:

“It [ethical veganism] is not just about choices of diet, but it is about what the person wears, and all aspects of their life seemed to be governed by ethical veganism”

Therefore, if an employee is vegan in diet only, then it is unlikely that they would be covered under the Equality Act 2010 as having a philosophical belief.

Unfortunately, the outcome of this case means that employers may face a confusing time going forward. For example, many employers provide milk, bread and margarine for their staff, but what should an employer do if an employee says that they are vegan and requires vegan alternatives to be provided? Does an employer have to comply with this?

Prior to the above case, the answer would have been no. However, now the situation is that if an employee is an “ethical” vegan, they could argue discrimination if they were not provided with such alternatives. Therefore, it would be advisable to explore with the person in question their reasoning for requesting such alternatives and try to ascertain whether they are dietary or “ethical” vegans. Alternatively, the employer could make the decision to cater for all vegans, irrelevant of what type of vegan they are, in order to reduce any risk going forward.

The important message that comes from this case is that “ethical” vegans are protected from all kinds of discrimination, including harassment, and therefore employers need to be aware of any employees that may fall under this category to ensure that they do not suffer any detriment because of this belief.

For any advice and assistance, please contact Katie Hodson, Employment Law & HR Associate, on 0161 475 7670 or email [email protected].

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