Ethical veganism is a protected belief, rules Employment Tribunal


In a boost for anyone wavering over whether to do #Veganuary, an Employment Tribunal has ruled that an individual who is an ethical vegan had a protected belief under the Equality Act and is entitled to pursue a discrimination claim. 

Jordi Casamitjana alleges that he was fired by the League Against Cruel Sports after telling other staff that their pension fund was invested in companies involved in animal testing.   The Tribunal will need to hear full evidence about what took place (and decide whether he was discriminated against) at a later hearing. 

The decision is not surprising - the range of beliefs which are protected under the Equality Act is wide, and similar beliefs about man-made climate change etc. have previously been held to be protected.  Not all vegans will necessarily be protected - it depends on the exact nature of their beliefs.   If they just prefer to eat vegan food on health grounds, that's unlikely to be protected - whereas an ethical belief system about avoiding animal exploitation in all forms is much more likely to be protected.  

In most cases, employers should not find it particularly difficult to avoid discriminating against vegans.  It's worth remembering that only direct discrimination (e.g. firing someone simply for being an ethical vegan) is always unlawful; indirect discrimination claims only succeed if the employer's actions weren't justified.  So a vegan who worked in a steakhouse and refused to handle meat products would be unlikely to succeed in a claim if he/she were fired - it's difficult to see how the employer could accommodate that refusal.   On the other hand, an employer which required its staff to wear a uniform made out of silk probably could provide a vegan-acceptable alternative such as peace silk, so firing a vegan who refused to wear the uniform without proposing such an alternative might not be justifiable.   

It remains to be seen whether the claimant in this case will succeed - but in the meantime employers might want to stock up on almond milk. 

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Ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and should be protected by law, an employment tribunal has ruled.
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