The employment tribunal are considering the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, where for the first time ethical veganism — the philosophical belief by an ‘ethical vegan’ — comes into question. Should it qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010 and what does this mean for employers?
Jordi Casamitjana is an ethical vegan which means that he does not eat, wear or consume any animal products. Whilst working at the League Against Cruel Sports, Mr Casamitjana raised concerns regarding the company’s pension fund that it was being invested in companies that were involved in animal testing.
After raising the issue with his employer and later with colleagues, he was subsequently dismissed. Mr Casamitjana claims he was dismissed because he is an ethical vegan and that this should be protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. His employer maintains that the reason behind his dismissal was actually for gross misconduct and failure to follow a management instruction.
How Could Being an Ethical Vegan Qualify for Protection As a Philosophical Belief?
To qualify for protection, the criteria in Grainger plc and ors v Nicholson must be met. The belief must:
- be genuinely held;
- not simply be an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
- concern 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 not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Recently, a case (Conisbee v Crossley Farms and others) brought by a vegetarian was dismissed by the employment tribunal as they upheld that vegetarianism is not a philosophical belief which qualifies for protection. In this case, the employment tribunal determined that although the belief was genuinely held and worthy of respect, it did not meet the other criteria above. Interestingly, in the end the tribunal did compare vegetarianism with veganism and suggested the outcome may have been different for veganism.
Unfortunately, the Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports hearing has been delayed but it will be interesting to see whether the tribunal find that being a vegan is classed as a philosophical belief and therefore protected by the Equality Act 2010. Even if it is, that does not mean that Casamitjana will be successful in his claim as he will also have to convince the tribunal that the reason for his dismissal was because he was an ethical vegan and not for gross misconduct as stated by his former employer. Conisbee has appealed his outcome so there may be further developments regarding vegetarians too.
The tribunal found Ethical Veganism to be a philosophical belief and therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010. Employers will now have to consider Ethical Veganism in the same way as other philosophical beliefs such as religion.
The impact of this case could be considerable for example employers with canteens may have to consider vegan options and supermarkets may have to consider those employees who are Ethical Vegans and do not want to work with meat. The ruling however may not protect all vegans as Mr Casamitjana had evidenced how being an Ethical Vegan was an integral part of his life in a way that other vegans may not be able to do.
Employers will now have to consider these matters to ensure they do not unfairly treat employees in this regard.