In the recent Casamitiana v The League Against Cruel Sports case, it has been concluded that ethical veganism amounts to a philosophical belief and is, therefore, a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010. But what defines a philosophical belief, and how can it be protected under the act?
What is a philosophical belief?
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate in the workplace because of religion, religious belief, philosophical belief or lack of religion or belief. A philosophical belief is not strictly defined, but it has to meet some requirements in order to fall under the protection of the act.
- A belief must be genuinely held
- It must be a belief, not just an opinion or viewpoint.
- It must relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
- It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
- It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
- It must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief, but it doesn’t need to allude to a fully-fledged system of thought.
In an Employment Tribunal, the beliefs are judged on a case by case basis, which solely depends on the nature and extent of an individual’s belief, including the impact and affects the belief has on how they live their daily life.
The Claimant, Mr Jordi Casamitjana Costa, is an ethical vegan. His beliefs mean that he follows a vegan diet, whilst also opposing the use of animals for any purpose. Whereas, the respondent, is an animal welfare charity that campaigns against sports such as fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing called The League Against Cruel Sports.
Mr Jordi Casamitjana Costa worked as a zoologist within the organisation, being the head of policy and research. He argues that he was dismissed after raising concerns that his employer’s pension fund was investing in companies that tested on animals.
Although the judgement is yet to be published, it has been reported that the Employment Tribunal has held that ethical veganism amounts to a philosophical belief. Therefore, it is not specifically clear whether dietary or ‘health vegans’ would be able to show that their belief met the necessary criteria for protection.
What can employers learn about this case?
Based on the outcome of this Employment Tribunal, it just proves the importance of respecting ethical vegan beliefs in the workplace. There is now possible protection against discrimination, victimisation and harassment under the Equality Act, which is available to those who identify as ethical vegans.
From now on, employers will have to carefully consider whether their current policies and practices are suitable for employees with ethical vegan beliefs. If they spot some problems, they will need to make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are not discriminatory.
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