Is ethical veganism a protected belief under the Equality Act?
The Equality Act prohibits discrimination because of religion or belief. “Belief” means any religious or philosophical belief. Caselaw has given guidance on the definition of philosophical belief, including:
- the belief must be genuinely held;
- it must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint 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, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
We reported last year on a case in which the Employment Tribunal (ET) would be asked to determine whether veganism is a philosophical belief which qualifies as a protected belief. The judgment of the ET has now been published.
The ET noted that ethical veganism is not just about choices of diet, but about choices relating to what a person wears, what personal care products they use, their hobbies and their jobs. “They are in fact people who have chosen to live, as far as possible, without the use of animal products”.
In this case, the ET took into account factors, including that Mr C:
- has a 100% vegan diet and does not keep any product that contains any animal product in his home. He would not allow non-vegan food to be brought into his home by another person;
- will not consume food he believes in its production in any way harms animals, for example, figs;
- will not buy any product that has been tested on animals;
- does not wear any clothes, shoes or accessories that contain animal products or keep any such products in his home;
- will take reasonable steps to ensure that any financial products that invest in pharmaceutical companies are avoided if tested on animals;
- has, since becoming vegan, only worked in the field of animal protection;
- tries to avoid sitting on leather seats or holding onto leather straps;
- participates in animal protection marches, demonstrations and protests and gives speeches at those events and will be vocal about his support for the ethical vegan lifestyle;
- will avoid social gatherings if the food served is non-vegan;
- has not, since becoming vegan, dated anyone who is not a vegan and would not share a property with any one who is also not a vegan;
- would normally walk if his journey is within an hour walking distance in order to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds when taking a bus or public transport.
The ET held that Mr C’s belief was genuinely held and was more than an opinion or viewpoint. It had a weighty and substantial effect on his everyday life and behaviour. The ET also held that ethical veganism is a belief which obtains a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance; and it does not in any way offend society.
The ET found it “easy to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence … that ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and thus a protected characteristic under the Equality Act”.
The employer had conceded in this case that ethical veganism could amount to a philosophical belief and the judgment is not particularly surprising. It is still important to remember that this case was decided on its facts and the evidence presented by Mr C that he personally holds ethical veganism as a belief and had “clearly dedicated himself to that belief through what he eats, where he works, what he wears, the products he uses, where he shops and with whom he associates”.
This is, of course, not the end of the story for Mr C. The issue of whether he was discriminated against has yet to be heard by the ET.
We can provide bespoke equality awareness training in your workplace for managers. Contact us to find out more.
Casamitjana Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports
31 January 2020
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