An employment tribunal claim that is in the news today will consider if veganism should be protected by law.

Jordi Casamitjana was an employee of the League Against Cruel Sports. He says that he was dismissed after he had complained internally about alleged investments made by the organisation indirectly in companies involved in animal testing.

Casamitjana claims he was discriminated against and an Employment tribunal will now decide if veganism should be protected in law.  He 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 is 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 and Religion and Belief is one of them 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 – something that may concern many.

“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 which is yet to be decided, 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.

Bizarre opinions cited as philosophical beliefs

There have been some bizarre opinions and views cited as philosophical beliefs. One well known example is Rev. Robert West, a teacher who stood as a BNP candidate. He apparently set up his own church which taught traditional bible beliefs.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) panel upheld claims that he had made inappropriate comments to students while working as a supply teacher at Walton Girls High School, Grantham.

The NCTL found that Mr West’s conduct fell short of expected standards, and found him guilty of unacceptable professional conduct. These included saying he was “allergic to Mohammedans”. During a lesson, he had said “any non-Christian god is demonic” and “Muslims worship the devil”.

He also emailed the school principal: “It is about time that you put the teacher back in charge … I am not going to program my students with utter trash about Mohammedanism – a religion whose textbook, the Koran, has been burnt for atrocities against humanity.”

The NCTL banned him from teaching for life following this hearing in any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England.

Will veganism be protected in law?

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

The difference in the Casamitjana case will be for the Claimant to make out a case that his beliefs are sufficiently “weighty and substantial” and that they have a significant level of “cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.

Discrimination is complex and 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. We await the outcome of this tribunal with interest.