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Veganism and Discrimination in the Workplace

Veganism, discrimination and the workplace have been hot topics recently. An Employment Judge has decided that an employee could be discriminated against on the basis of being a vegan. In January 2020, Jordi Casamitjana succeeded in a preliminary hearing against his previous employer, League Against Cruel Sports, that being an ethical vegan was a philosophical belief for the purposes of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Mr Casamitjiana claimed he had been dismissed unfairly, as identifying as an ethical vegan, he raised concerns that his employer’s pension funds were being invested in corporations linked to animal testing.

The judge ruled that ethical veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’ deserves the same legal protection in the workplace as religious beliefs.  The full hearing is presently underway so we will have to wait to see if a finding of discrimination follows but even still this is a fascinating case and the first of its kind – but what do employers need to know?

What is ethical veganism?

First things first, what is ethical veganism? According to the Vegan Society, veganism is a life choice seeking to exclude all forms of exploitation and cruelty towards animals, as far as possible and as much as practical. This includes eschewing cruelty towards animals for the purposes of food, clothing or entertainment.

Ethical vegans eat a plant-based diet free from animal products, avoid clothing produced with materials derived from animal skin, fur or wool, and avoid cosmetics and any other products that have been tested on animals.

Can a vegan suffer discrimination in the workplace?

Ethical vegans uphold these belief systems to align with moral principles regarding animal welfare, as opposed to eating a plant-based diet for health or climate change reasons.

Under the Equality Act 2010, religious and philosophical beliefs are considered protected characteristics. It is therefore unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of such characteristics. This applies to all areas of employment, from the interview process to termination.

Veganism in the workplace

Following Mr Casamitjana’s preliminary ruling, ethical veganism could be classified as a philosophical belief, requiring employers to treat all employees under this identification equally and fairly. We say ‘could be’ because this will not legally be binding until a decision is confirmed in the appeal courts.  However, all law stems from somewhere so this could be the start of a landmark decision. Following the tribunal, it is expected that many more claims regarding veganism and workplace discrimination could be raised, so making sure your vegan employees don’t face discrimination at work is not only good practice but could end up being essential.

There are many ways to do this, including stocking dairy-free milk alternatives for vegan employees or disciplining fellow employees who seek to make the workplace a hostile or humiliating environment for their vegan colleagues. However, as this ruling is unprecedented, it isn’t yet clear which other behaviours might violate the beliefs surrounding ethical veganism.

It is, however, important for employers to keep up-to-date with such legal rulings to ensure they can tackle and prevent workplace discrimination. Discussing your circumstances with and seeking advice from qualified employment solicitors can help you abide by the regulations set out by workplace discrimination legislation, and can help you in the case that you’ve been accused of unfair behaviour.

At Swan Craig Solicitors, our team of trusted employment solicitors have the expertise and legal knowledge to assist employers with a range of legal issues, including the regulations set out under the Equality Act 2010. For expert advice from compassionate solicitors, get in touch with our team of employment and commercial law specialists today.

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