For the first time, an employment tribunal will decide whether veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’. That will decide whether or not it can be protected under by the discrimination laws (the Equality Act 2010) for the purposes of discrimination, like a religious belief.

Jordi Casamitjana (a vegan) claims that the League Against Cruel Sports dismissed him because he raised concerns that they invested their pension fund in companies that do animal testing.

Jordi has lodged a claim for discrimination citing the ‘philosophical belief’ (which he defines as not eating, wearing or consuming any animal products) in ethical veganism. His employer has refuted these allegations, stating that Jordi’s dismissal was for gross misconduct.

The tribunal has called a hearing in March 2019, to determine whether veganism is a philosophical belief.

What is a philosophical belief?

There is no specific definition of philosophical belief in the discrimination laws. However, caselaw has given guidance, which includes:
1. The belief must be genuinely held.
2. It must be a belief rather than a mere opinion.
3. It must be a fairly serious belief (about an aspect of human life and behaviour).
4. It must be worthy of respect and not conflict with human dignity, nor the fundamental rights of others.
5. It must “have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief”.
6. It need not be shared by others.
7. It may be based on science.

In our view, the crux is whether Jordi’s veganism beliefs have similar status to that of religious beliefs. Some believe that it wont’ this standard because it is likely to be interpreted as a ‘lifestyle/dietary’ belief, rather than a belief which touches all aspects of life, like religions tend to be.

Our view is that Jordi’s veganism belief in ‘not eating, wearing or consuming any animal products’ is capable of being categorised as a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint. As ‘ethical vegans’ eat a plant-based diet because of beliefs about how humans should treat animals it is likely, in our view, that this part of his case will succeed.

It will be fascinating to see what the tribunal’s decision is in March 2019, as if veganism is classified as a philosophical belief then it could open the floodgates to many different ways of thinking being protected under the Equality Act 2010. Examples found by the tribunals already have included beliefs on climate change.

Laws tend to take on a life of their own once they leave parliament. In bringing in these laws, the government said that it did not share the view that climate change or veganism were covered by the legislation. But the courts have said otherwise about views on climate change, fox hunting and even the “higher purpose” of public service broadcasting.

By Zahid Reza

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