On 3rd January 2020, an employment tribunal handed down a landmark judgment, ruling that “ethical veganism” is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 and is therefore deemed to be a protected characteristic for the purposes of discrimination.
What is ethical veganism?
Most of us are familiar with the rules of a vegan lifestyle. Namely, following a plant-based diet and avoiding all animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, honey and eggs. But what is ethical veganism? An ethical vegan is someone whose lifestyle and choices are shaped by their desire to avoid all forms of animal exploitation at all practical costs. For example avoiding purchasing clothes made from wool or leather, refusing to use products that are tested on animals or walking rather than travelling in a car or bus to avoid collisions with bugs or other animals.
The hearing was part of a case brought by Jordi Casamitjana to allow the tribunal to preliminarily decide whether ethical veganism should be afforded protection under the Equality Act 2010.
Mr Casamitjana claimed that he was dismissed by his employer, an animal welfare charity called the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), after he raised concerns that the charity’s pension fund had invested in companies involved in animal testing. LACS denies that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed on account of his veganism and alleges that he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
The Tribunal ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 and should therefore be afforded similar protections in the workplace as those who hold religious beliefs.
In order for a belief to be protected under the Equality Act 2010 it must satisfy a number of tests including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with fundamental rights of others. In considering Mr Casamitjana’s case the Tribunal ruled that ethical veganism satisfies the requisite tests being “important” and “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
Although this is a first instance ruling, it is anticipated that the recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 could have significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services. There has been much speculation as to the implications the ruling could potentially have in practice. For example, making it illegal for prisons, hospitals and schools not to offer vegan food or requiring employers to ensure that office uniforms or equipment are vegan compliant. However, at present the impact of decision remains to be seen.
Now that the preliminary issue pertaining to the protected characteristic has been decided, the matter will be listed for a final hearing to consider whether Mr Casamitjana was discriminated against by his former employer.