An employment tribunal has ruled that an employee who claimed to be an “ethical vegan” held a philosophical belief within the meaning attributed to it under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.
This means that under employment law he is entitled to protection against discrimination on the grounds of his belief.
It is important first of all to gain a better understanding of what ethical veganism actually entails. It goes well beyond the requirements of dietary veganism, which is limited to the non-consumption of animal products.
Ethical veganism opposes the use of animals for any purpose, including for animal testing.
The Claimant, Jordi Casamitjana, had raised concerns that his employer’s pension fund was being invested into companies involved in animal testing. This was particularly troublesome because his employer was the League Against Cruel Sports. He alleged that the decision to dismiss him was because of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.
The tribunal’s ruling is only on the preliminary matter of whether ethical veganism constitutes a philosophical belief.
It is understood that Mr Casamitjana’s former employer did not actively oppose this argument, which is again perhaps unsurprising given the principles of their organisation.
In order to win his discrimination claim, Mr Casamitjana will need to show that he was treated unfavourably because of his philosophical belief.
This is not the first time that Claimants at tribunal have sought to argue that they hold a philosophical belief that is so strong as to merit protection under the Equality Act. What is clear from the guidance is that a mere opinion will not count as a philosophical belief.
The Equality Act makes clear that it must be cogent, serious and apply to an important aspect of human life or behaviour. It must also be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not affect other people’s fundamental rights.
The employment tribunal found that ethical veganism was indeed worthy of respect in a democratic society, and that its belief systems were sufficiently serious and integral to somebody’s way of life to make it worthy of qualifying as a philosophical belief.
Employers should therefore be mindful that an employee who claims to hold a steadfast belief in something and lives their life according to that belief may well have protection under section 10 of the Equality Act. They should be careful not to act hastily in judging an employee’s actions in the pursuit of such a belief.