Ethical veganism is a protected belief
An employment tribunal has ruled that a claimant’s belief in ethical veganism was a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010.
What is the criteria for protection as a philosophical belief?
The Equality Act 2010 protects people against discrimination on grounds of religious or philosophical belief. In order for a belief to be protected as a philosophical belief it must:
- Be genuinely held
- Be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
- Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
What did the employment tribunal conclude?
In Casamitjana Costa v League Against Cruel Sports, the employer accepted that Mr Casamitjana Costa's belief in ethical veganism was protected. However, the employment tribunal had to satisfy itself that it was a protected belief, otherwise it could not hear his claim.
Having heard evidence about how Mr Casamitjana Costa conducts his life, the judge was in no doubt that he genuinely believes in ethical veganism. He clearly dedicates himself to his belief through what he eats, where he works, what he wears, the products he uses, where he shops and who he associates with. For example, he:
- Only works in the field of animal protection and avoids relationships and living with non-vegans
- Eats a 100% vegan diet, avoids foods that could potentially harm animals in their production, and does not allow any food or product containing animal products into his home
- Avoids using products tested on animals, wearing animal-derived products, financial products which invest in companies that carry out animal testing, or using bank notes manufactured using animal products
- Does not visit zoos, circuses, animal fights, animal races or any form of spectacle with live animals and does not have any pets
- Tries to avoid sitting on leather seats or holding on to leather straps
- Where possible avoids social gatherings where non-vegan food is served
- Walks instead of using public transport for journeys under an hour to avoid accidental crashes with wildlife (insects and birds)
The employment tribunal concluded that ethical veganism:
- Is a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint. It is founded on a longstanding tradition recognising the consequences of non-human animal sentience upheld by religious people and atheists alike
- Is a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human behaviour, having at its heart the interaction between human and non-human life and avoiding exploitation of fellow species. It has sweeping consequences on human behaviour
- Has obtained a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance. It is a belief which seeks to exclude as far as possible all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. By extension it promotes the development of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment
It also ruled that there is no conflict between ethical veganism and human dignity, it is not offensive and it does not conflict with the fundamental rights of others (as it does not require non-vegans to act in a particular way).
Mr Casamitjana Costa’s belief was therefore protected.
What are the implications of this case for employers and employees?
This case opens the door for ethical vegans to claim that they have been the victim of discrimination or harassment and highlights that their beliefs may be protected. However, the decision does not mean that all ethical vegans will be protected. An employment tribunal will have to assess each claimant’s evidence and decide whether their belief qualifies for protection.
Mr Casamitjana Costa’s discrimination will now be decided at an employment tribunal hearing starting later this month. The employment tribunal will have to decide whether he was dismissed because of his belief in ethical veganism. His employer alleges it dismissed him for failing to follow a management instruction not to provide financial advice to his colleagues. He alleges that his dismissal was because of his beliefs – he was dismissed after he discovered that the pension scheme was investing in funds which harms animals and he notified his colleagues of this.
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