In 2020, an Employment Tribunal considered at a preliminary hearing whether veganism should be protected by law. This case is still very relevant today given modern eating practises so we consider it more fully below.

Jordi Casamitjana was an employee of the League Against Cruel Sports (Casamitjana Costa v League Against Cruel Sports ET/3331129/18). He said that he was dismissed after he had complained internally about alleged investments made by the organisation. These were investments into companies involved in animal testing.

Casamitjana claims he was discriminated against and an employment tribunal had to decide if ethical veganism should be protected in law under the Equality Act 2010. Jordi is quoted as saying that he cares “about the animals and the environment and my health and everything”. He claims to be an “ethical Vegan” and was at pains to point out that his belief “affects every single aspect of my life.”

Legal protection for religion and belief

The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine protected characteristics, of which religion and belief is one alongside sex, race, age and disability. The Act prohibits direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment in the workplace in respect of religion, religious belief and philosophical belief and covers job applicants as well as employees. It also prohibits victimisation in the workplace against employees who have complained or done anything in pursuance of their rights under the Act.

“Religion” means any religion and includes a lack of religion. All the well known religions are covered as well as druids and the church of scientology. There has even been a case of a Wiccan witch being recognised to have had a religion worthy of protection. Currently, cults are not precluded from recognition as religions.

“Belief” means any religious or philosophical belief and includes a reference to a lack of belief.

What amounts to a religious or philosophical belief?

Regardless of the facts of this particular case, just what amounts to a religious or philosophical belief? There has some guidance from the courts as follows:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be more than an opinion 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”.
  • It need not be shared by others.
  • While “support of a political party” does not of itself amount to a philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy, such as Socialism or Marxism, might qualify.
  • A philosophical belief may be based on science.

Will veganism be protected in law?

The Government has previously considered whether veganism should receive protection and came out against its express inclusion in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Equality Act Code of Practice, which is always taken into account by employment tribunals.

However, in the Casamitjana case the Tribunal did find that Jordi’s ethical veganism was protected under the Equality Act 2010 as a philosophical belief.

The tribunal held that the claimant’s belief was genuinely held and was more than simply an opinion or viewpoint. The claimant lived and breathed this way of life. For example, he avoided relationships with non-vegans, wouldn’t use financial products where the bank invested in companies that used animal testing, would refuse to use bank notes manufactured using animal products and would avoid using public transport for journeys under one hour to avoid crashes with wildlife.

The tribunal held that ethical veganism was without a doubt a belief which attained a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance.

What this means?

This case does not mean that all vegans are protected from discrimination simply because of their dietary requirements. Someone must hold themselves out to be an ethical vegan and very much live that lifestyle as this claimant did. Further, for there to be any form of Employment Tribunal claim, someone would need to be discriminated against because of their beliefs in veganism, not because of something unrelated to that fact. As a result we foresee few situations where this sort of claim may arise but discrimination is complex and is present in many workplaces. It is the interests of employers and employees to address it and allegations about it promptly and in a manner which prevents escalation to dispute and litigation.

If you have any queries in respect of this area, please feel free to contact our Employment Team.