Plant based discrimination?



While Veganuary has come to an end, we are fast approaching a landmark hearing in March that will decide if veganism should be regarded as a philosophical belief that is protected under the Equality Act 2010.

The employment tribunal hearing will centre around the dismissal of Mr Casamitjana by the animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports (League).

Mr Casamitjana claims that he was dismissed by the League after he blew the whistle that the pension fund in place for employees of the League was being invested in companies involved in animal testing.

The League claims that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed from his position as a result of gross misconduct and for failing to follow express management instructions that were given to him. The League also claims that Mr Casamitjana is attempting to link his dismissal to his veganism as he lacks the required continuity of service to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim.

The first stage of the hearing in March will be for the Tribunal to assess whether ethical veganism is capable of being deemed a philosophical belief, and therefore protected under the Equality Act.

The employment appeal tribunal has set out guidelines in relation to philosophical beliefs, which include the following:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
  • It must “have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief”. However, it need not “allude to a fully-fledged system of thought”; in other words, it does not need to be an “-ism”

If in March the tribunal finds that ethical veganism is a belief for the purpose of the Equality act it will gain the same protected status as characteristics such as religious belief, age, disability, race, gender and sexual orientation.

With the potential for this claim to open the floodgates for recognised beliefs, it is a good time for businesses to review their working practices and put procedures in place to avoid discrimination in the work place.

Some pre-emptive steps to avoid discrimination in the workplace are:

  • Having adequate policies and procedures in place – having policies such as disciplinary and grievance policies and equality policies let employees know what is, and what is not acceptable in the work place, and how any issues will be dealt with.
  • Training – employing structured training can help to reinforce the information in your policies, and can be a good time to touch base with employees to get their feelings and feedback on the culture within the workplace.
  • Management focused initiatives – ensuring that managerial staff actively monitor and guide the culture of the business by undertaking ‘ear to the ground’ and ‘open door’ policies allows issues to be dealt with before they become a problem.

For a free initial call/a free informal conversation with one of our employment specialists about any of the issues raised above please contact us today on 01225 750 000.

By Sean McDonough, Partner Employment & HR Team