One of the first notable cases in the area of employment law that came to the scene early this year was on the topic of veganism.
What was described as a landmark decision in the employment tribunal, the judgment immediately hit the news headlines after being delivered.
The employee, Mr Casamitjana was dismissed by his employer for gross misconduct. Mr Casamitjana brought a claim against his employer arguing that the true reason for his dismissal was due to his ethical veganism.
Ethical veganism is another form of veganism whereby as well as following a strict plant-based diet, all forms of animal exploitation and harm are avoided. For example, ethical vegans will avoid buying or wearing clothes made by leather or buying products tried and tested on animals.
The tribunal considered Mr Casamitjana’s case and after applying a number of tests, held that ethical veganism did amount to a philosophical belief which meant that it is eligible for protection against discrimination and other unfavourable treatment.
It was held that Mr Casamitjana’s belief was genuine and more than just an opinion or viewpoint. The belief had a weighty and substantial effect on his day-to-day life and behaviour. Mr Casamitjana’s career was in the field of animal welfare and he avoided foods that could harm animals in their production and prohibited any food or product containing animal into his home. The tribunal held that ethical veganism was a belief that was highly important in society today and did not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Why was this case important?
The Equality Act 2010 sets out that it is unlawful to discriminate, harass or victimise someone due to any of the 9 “protected characteristics” which are:-
- Gender reassignment;
- Marriage and civil partnership;
- Pregnancy and maternity;
- Religion or belief;
- Sex; and
- Sexual orientation.
The protective characteristic that was relevant in this case was belief which includes both religious and philosophical beliefs. The tribunal judge (who previously rejected an argument that vegetarianism qualified for protection) applied a series of tests and held that it was clear, from (amongst other things) the fact that he chose to walk instead of taking the bus to avoid the potential harm to insects, that his daily life was primarily concerned about the welfare of animals. This is what separated him from others who are vegan.
What to take from this case?
This case gives a good example of the circumstances whereby a belief can amount to a philosophical belief thereby attracting the protection of the Equality Act.
An employee will need to show that being vegan goes beyond following a plant-based diet and that it plays a central role in their everyday life and has a heavy impact on their life choices to be afforded the protection.
In contrast, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held in another case that a belief in climate change was potentially capable of amounting to a philosophical belief.
Suggestions for you
If you are an employer, we would recommend that you continue to maintain a fair and balanced approach to how you treat all staff.
Should you have members of staff that follow a vegan lifestyle or maintain any other strong beliefs, (regardless of whether this would amount to an ethical belief) we would suggest that you treat it in a fair and balanced way. Keeping your equal opportunities policy and anti-harassment and bullying policy up to date is a good way to show your employees that you are keeping up with developments.
If you are an employee and feel that you have a belief capable of being protected by the Equality Act, we would recommend that you make your employer aware of this if you have not already done so. This is so that they can make arrangements to support you wherever necessary and serve as a polite reminder to update any policies and procedures they have in place.