Veganism is a philosophical belief

Following the recent employment tribunal’s decision in Norwich, it was ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and is therefore protected by the Equality Act. With the rise in veganism and campaigns such as Veganuary this ruling could have far wider implications than perhaps was anticipated.

What is the Equality Act and who is protected?

The Equality Act came into force in October 2010. It brought together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one single act. The Act itself provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and enhances equality for all. It is primarily concerned with discrimination and harassment, in particular in relation to individuals that possess one of the following “protected characteristics”:

  • Age (section 5);
  • Disability (section 6);
  • Gender reassignment (section 7);
  • Marriage and civil partnership (section 8);
  • Pregnancy and maternity (section 18);
  • Race (section 9);
  • Religion or belief (section 10);
  • Sex (section 11); and
  • Sexual orientation (section 12).

In this particular case, Mr Jordi Casamitjana ‘s ethical veganism was considered to be entitled to similar legal protections as those who hold religious beliefs. The Judge in this case, Robin Postle, ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act by satisfying several tests; including that it is worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.

He stated: "I am satisfied overwhelmingly that ethical veganism does constitute a philosophical belief."

However, the employment tribunal’s decision goes against the Government’s opinion that veganism should not be a philosophical belief. This was following the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s view which was published in a code of conduct in order to assist employers on how to navigate the Equality Act after it came into force.

This recent judgement is one of several determining what might constitute a philosophical belief subsequently capable of protection. Another employment tribunal decision in September 2019 held that a belief in Scottish independence amounted to a philosophical belief, hence affording protection from discrimination. This could raise the question of whether other strong political opinions, such as Brexit, could follow these recent findings.

Employers need to be mindful, where an employee holds a belief which impacts upon their way of life or involves them taking or omitting certain actions, irrespective of whether the employer also holds that belief, that they don’t take actions against the employee because of or as a consequence of that belief as it might be considered unlawful to do so.

Posted on: 07/01/2020

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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