Is ethical veganism a philosophical belief protected in law?

Is ethical veganism a philosophical belief protected in law?

In a landmark case, an employment tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief. In the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, a judge found that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and should receive similar legal protections to religion in British workplaces.

The new year often spurs a health kick for many people, including trying the popular campaign ‘Veganuary’. Combined with a growing acceptance of veganism, the employment tribunal’s ruling that ethical vegans are protected from less favourable treatment at work because of their belief could not be more topical.

The case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports

The case revolves around Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal from his role at the animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports. The League Against Cruel Sports contests he was dismissed for gross misconduct, however Mr Casamitjana claims that he was dismissed and discriminated against because of his ethical veganism. The Tribunal decided that ethical veganism is considered a philosophical belief and falls under the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Consequently, it attracts legal protection from discrimination in the same way as a religious belief does.

The law: Equality Act

Categories of individuals with protected characteristics are protected in law from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in employment. There are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act:

  • Religion or belief
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

The protected characteristic of religion and belief includes any religious or philosophical beliefs. In order to be considered a philosophical belief, however, it must pass several tests, including that:

  • it is a genuinely held belief and not an opinion or viewpoint
  • it relates to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • it is sufficiently cogent, serious, cohesive and important
  • it is worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human rights or conflicting with fundamental rights of others.

What does the decision mean?

Previously the term ‘belief’ has been viewed narrowly, however this ruling could see the start of an increase in claims of this type brought by people seeking to argue that their belief should also be seen as a philosophical belief. The ruling could mean that any workplace abuse aimed towards ethical vegans could give rise to a discriminatory claim in the same way as a racist, homophobic or sexist comment could. Employers will need to consider ethical veganism in the same way as any religious belief and provide the same protections to their ethical vegan employees in order to protect themselves from potential legal action.

The ruling is, however, only a first instance decision which means that it is not a binding legal precedent and does not have to be followed in other Tribunals. The Tribunal’s decision relates only to ethical veganism, which is distinguished from traditional veganism as ethical vegans also seek to cut out all forms of animal exploitation, including in their clothing choices. This may deter those seeking to argue that other beliefs should be protected but which are not followed as cohesively. This was demonstrated in September 2019, when a Tribunal rejected vegetarianism as being a philosophical belief for not attaining a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.

How Brachers can help

If you are unsure of your policies and their compliance in relation to the Equality Act, or you are involved in, or concerned about a potential employment tribunal, please get in touch with our team of employment law solicitors.