In a recent case, the employment tribunal (ET) held that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and should be afforded protection as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
Jordi Casamitjana Costa alleged that his employer, The League Against Cruel Sports, unfairly dismissed him after he raised concerns that the company’s pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing.
Mr Casamitjana Costa is an ethical vegan choosing to live, as far as possible, without the use of animal products or exploitation of animals. In addition to not eating animal products, he does not wear any clothes, shoes, hats or accessories that contain animal products; does not visit zoos; avoids leather seats or holding onto leather straps; showers only with vegan-friendly shampoos and soap; would prefer to walk to his destination rather than taking public transport to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds; and, as far as possible, only uses credit cards or coins when paying for purchases as new notes have been manufactured using animal products.
The ET held that there was no doubt whatsoever that Mr Casamitjana Costa genuinely holds his belief in ethical veganism. It also found that ethical veganism was an “important moral essential” worthy of respect in a democratic society. The employment judge was “satisfied overwhelmingly that ethical veganism does constitute a philosophical belief”.
Many people now adopt a plant-based diet (we have after all just reached the end of “Veganuary”). This may be for health reasons alone or part of a wider philosophy. Adopting a vegan diet would not in itself manifest a belief in ethical veganism - the extent to which an individual genuinely holds a protected belief must be assessed in each case.
Although this decision is only at the level of the ET, it might well pave the way for others to argue that they have suffered discrimination on account of their vegan ethos. It is therefore important to make sure that any decision which might adversely impact an employee who holds such a belief (or who has any other protected characteristic) can be demonstrated to have been made for sound business reasons.