Is vegetarianism protected by the Equality Act?
A case has hit the headlines this week about whether vegetarianism is a protected characteristic and therefore protected under the Equality Act.
The Equality Act prohibits discrimination because of religion or belief. “Belief” means any religious or philosophical belief. Case law 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;
- it must have a similar status or cogency to religious belief.
Mr C had issued claims in the Employment Tribunal including a claim for discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief. The Employment Tribunal held a Preliminary Hearing to decide whether vegetarianism is capable of being a philosophical belief and therefore capable of protection of the Equality Act.
It was accepted in this case that Mr C is a vegetarian and has a genuine belief in his vegetarianism. However, the employer argued that simply being vegetarian itself cannot amount to being a protected characteristic. The Tribunal agreed. It found that:
- Mr C’s belief in vegetarianism is his opinion and view point in that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food. It is not enough to have an opinion based on some real or perceived logic for this to be capable of protection;
- Vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour, it is a life style choice;
- On the issue of whether the belief attains the required level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, the Tribunal noted that the reason for being a vegetarian differs greatly – including lifestyle, health, diet, concern about the way animals are reared for food and personal taste;
- The practice of vegetarianism is worthy of respect in a democratic society;
- Having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not enough in itself for it to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
The Tribunal was not persuaded that vegetarianism amounted to a philosophical belief.
This is an Employment Tribunal judgment, and is not binding on Judges in future Tribunal cases. It is also important to bear in mind that all cases are fact sensitive and the outcome will depend on the particular circumstances. It is the first case that we are aware of on this point, but clearly others may follow. We reported at the end of last year on a case about whether veganism is protected by the Equality Act. It is interesting to note that the Tribunal in this case has left open the possibility that veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief. It commented that unlike vegetarianism, the reasons for being a vegan appear to be largely the same. “Vegans simply do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control. There you can see a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, which appears contrary to vegetarianism, i.e. having numerous, differing and wide varying reasons for adopting vegetarianism”.
20 September 2019
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