Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must not treat staff less favourably or harass them (discriminate) because of a “protected characteristic”. One such characteristic is their “religious or philosophical beliefs”. This case report sheds light on what counts as a ‘philosophical belief’ by saying that ethical veganism is a belief that qualifies for protection.

This doesn’t have much caselaw yet, which is why the case is of interest. It is not an appeal decision, so it doesn’t set a precedent. But it is likely to be followed by other tribunals.

If other tribunals follow the judgment, employees who are ‘ethical vegans’ will be protected by the law to the same extent as people who hold religious beliefs.

Legal definition

The Tribunal decided that ‘ethical veganism’ meets a series of tests to merit protection under the Equality Act 2020:

  1. It deserves respect in a democratic society;
  2. It is compatible with human dignity; and
  3. Doesn’t conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Ethical vegans refuse to wear anything made from animals, such as leather or wool; they don’t use products tested on animals. The case says nothing about ‘dietary vegans’ who eat only plant-based food or those who avoid meat because of the taste. We think the former would be protected but the latter would not.

Jordi Casamitjana, an ethical vegan, was dismissed by his employer, League Against Cruel Sports. He raised concerns with his employer that its pension fund was invested with companies involved in animal testing. When they ignored him, he told his colleagues and was sacked. The case continues, with the employer arguing that it dismissed him for misconduct, not because of his beliefs.

This decision doesn’t surprise us. Tribunals have already said that environmental beliefs qualify for protection. The real question is how far future cases will go. Will they extend rights to those with view on other contentious areas, of varying importance such as Brexit, humanism, left-handed equality, treatment of the homeless, the BBC licence fee.

A wider interpretation means that employers will face more claims from argumentative employees unhappy with being told not to share their views in the office.

By David Liu

Image used under CC courtesy of Stuart Spivack