‘Ethical veganism’ now a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010
A judge in a UK Employment Tribunal has ruled that being vegan, for ethical reasons, amounts to a ‘philosophical belief’ and is therefore protected by the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.
Claimant Jordi Casamitjana claims he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing. The 55-year-old, from London, says he was unfairly disciplined for making this disclosure and that the decision to dismiss him was because of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.
At his Employment Tribunal in Norwich, judge Robin Postle ruled that ethical veganism satisfied the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief and is therefore a protected characteristic. 'Ethical vegans' are people who oppose the use of animals for any purpose, a moral philosophy that goes wider than simply eating a vegan or vegitarian diet. According to the UK's Vegan Society, there were around 600,000 vegans in Great Britain in 2018, which represents just over 1% of the population, a figure that has been rising in recent years.
So, what does this mean for your organisation?
Employment Consultant at Woodstock Property Law, Amy Cousineau Massey explains that it means ethical vegans now enjoy all of the protections from discrimination, harassment and victimisation as set out in the Equality Act 2010. Broadly speaking, this means they are protected from less favourable treatment because of their vegan beliefs and lifestyle.
“The protection extends to the provision of goods and services, meaning that service providers like banks, cafes and shops must treat their ethical vegan customers fairly,” she says.
“It is worth noting that protection is only afforded to vegans who practice veganism on ethical grounds and that vegetarianism is not protected. Nevertheless, the new ruling is far reaching and will have implications for almost all business owners and their staff.”
Cousineau-Massey advises that businesses must take steps to ensure ethical vegans are treated fairly. Protections for ethical vegans will apply broadly; employees and employment applicants are protected, as are customers and service users receiving goods and services.
For example, she says, a staff canteen may need to provide a vegan food option and where an employer provides tea and coffee, it may now need to also provide for milk alternatives such as soy, oat or almond milk.
“In certain circumstances, an employer may even need to consider its pension provisions and be ready to give ethical vegan employees a choice in investments, so that they can select funds that are guaranteed to be free from animal cruelty or environmental concerns,” the employment consultant continues.
“Employers should educate their staff on this new protected characteristic so that harassment and victimisation on the grounds of ethical veganism can be prevented. Awareness and education will be key as an employer can be vicariously liable for the acts of its employees. In other words, an employer could be held to account if one of its employees harasses another employee or customer.”
A full judgemement on Mr Casamitjana’s case against the league will be delivered later.
Amy Cousineau Massey can be contacted with any questions related to the case or the Equality Act at firstname.lastname@example.org