In recent years we have seen a huge rise in the number of people adopting vegetarian or vegan diets and every January, hundreds of thousands of Brits sign up for the Veganuary campaign – a pledge to embrace plant-based diets for a month. But what impact do a person’s beliefs have on their employment rights?
The Equality Act 2010 enables workers and employees to bring claims of direct or indirect discrimination to Employment Tribunals. To bring such a claim, the worker or employee must rely on a Protected Characteristic as defined by Section 4 Equality Act 2010. One of those protected characteristics is ‘religion or belief’.
But what does ’belief’ really mean?
In essence, it must be some form of philosophical belief. There are two interesting cases presently going through the Employment Tribunal system on this subject. They are Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited and Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports. The cases involve the issue of whether or not vegetarianism or veganism are philosophical beliefs and therefore qualify for protection under the Equality Act.
The general principles to define a philosophical belief are – it must genuinely be held; it must not simply be in an opinion or viewpoint; the relevant concern must involve a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and must be worthy of respect in a democratic society which is not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
In the case of Conisbee, the Tribunal decided that vegetarianism does not fall within these definitions and therefore does not have protection under the Equality Act. It did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; it was a lifestyle choice i.e. the employee’s choice that the world would be better off if animals were not killed for food. It did not attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; vegetarians choose to be vegetarian for differing reasons e.g. it might be as a result of a belief that animals should not be reared for food and or there may simply be an issue of personal taste.
However, veganism can be contrasted. There is an underlying motivation for being vegan. Vegans do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products and distinct concerns about the way animals are reared. Veganism, therefore, does fall within the definition of philosophical belief but vegetarianism does not.
In the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, the tribunal has now ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief. The judge confirmed that ethical vegans should be given similar legal protections to those who hold religious beliefs in British workplaces.