Judge rules ethical veganism is a “philosophical belief”: What employers need to know

A landmark tribunal case has this month determined that veganism is protected under the Equality Act 2010, adding it to a list of nine protected characteristics, which include religion or belief, age, disability, race and sex. Employers will now have to respect ethical veganism and make sure they don’t discriminate against employees for their beliefs.

Of course, not every vegan is an ethical vegan. Some vegans eat a plant-based diet for health reasons. But so-called ethical vegans also avoid all forms of animal exploitation, such as leather clothing and zoos.

It’s a distinction that was central to the employment tribunal. The plaintiff Jordi Casamitjana – a self-proclaimed ethical vegan – claims he was sacked from his job at the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns with colleagues that the animal welfare charity’s pension fund invested in companies that carried out animal testing.

However, the League Against Cruel Sports denies this, saying he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The judge ruled that ethical vegans should be entitled to similar legal protections in British workplaces as those who hold religious beliefs. The judge is yet to rule on Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal – which is due at a later date.

A growing way of life

Figures from the Vegan Society suggest there are now 600,000 vegans in the UK, up from 150,000 just five years ago. In January, these numbers will swell, as motivated Britons sign up to “Veganuary” – or 31 days of eating a plant-based diet. But what, if anything, does the rise of veganism mean for employers?

The answer, as discussed in a recent Generali UK Employment Law Newsletter, is that it now “makes business sense to approach veganism as standard rather than alienate a growing group of potential talent”.

How to avoid discriminating against vegans

Tolerance and respect are integral to a healthy workplace. Unfortunately, though, many vegans do feel discriminated against in the workplace.

Recent research from Crossland Employment Solicitors found that almost half of vegan employees have experienced discrimination, with 31% saying they had been harassed or treated unfairly at work.

Issues flagged in the research included that employees were encouraged to keep their views to themselves and to fit in at company functions where there were limited menu choices on offer.

Advice from Hannah Ford, Partner & Employment Law specialist at law firm Stevens & Bolton is, therefore, to start introducing vegan-friendly policies now to avoid potential discrimination claims – and to help vegan members of staff feel more comfortable at work.

She said: “As veganism becomes more prevalent, employers should be mindful of the increased risk of accusations from employees that they have been discriminated against in the workplace because they are vegan.

“To counteract this risk, employers should take steps to ensure that vegan employees are not treated less favourably or subject to criticism based on their beliefs, and that vegan options are catered for whenever food or drinks are provided.

“Employers looking to accommodate vegan requirements at work may also wish to consider introducing wool-free uniforms, cruelty-free soap and non-leather furniture.”