The new year is only days old but already there has been a landmark ruling in an Employment Tribunal in Norwich, where it has been found that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and should be protected by law. This follows a decision last year in another employment tribunal case, Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd, where it was held that vegetarianism was not a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
The ruling relates to the case of an ethical vegan, Jordi Casamitjana, who alleged he was dismissed because of his views on animal products. This hearing did not examine the merits of Mr Casamitjana's unfair dismissal claim; rather it only looked at the issue of whether or not ethical veganism would be considered a philosophical belief. As it did, the case will proceed to a full merits hearing in due course.
Jordi Casamitjana says he was dismissed by the League Against Cruel Sports after telling colleagues that its pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing.
He claims the decision to dismiss him was because of his beliefs, and therefore was discriminatory under the religion and belief protection afforded under the Equality Act 2010.
Interestingly, in this case Mr Casamitjana's former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, did not contest the view that ethical veganism should be given protected status as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act. However, they maintain that he was not dismissed because of those beliefs but instead that he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
Despite the fact that the Respondent had conceded that veganism should be considered as a philosophical belief, given the significance of the issue the judge considered that the Employment Tribunal should still determine the status of the ethical veganism as a philosophical belief, and should still produce a written judgment on the question.
Ethical veganism goes beyond eating a plant-based diet, but seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation, such as wearing clothes made from animal products. It will join other beliefs that have already been held by the Employment Tribunal to be protected include climate change, Scottish independence and anti-fox hunting beliefs.
The written judgement will be published in due course and it will be interesting to note why the tribunal judge concluded that ethical veganism was a philosophical belief. This is an expanding area of law, with any number of potential beliefs that could be argued to be protected. If you have any queries about employee rights and protection under the Equality Act that may impact your business, please get in touch with one of our specialist employment solicitors.