Ethical veganism - a philosophical belief

After the festive excess, many decide to cut out alcohol or join a gym. Some may like the idea of 'Veganuary' – which is a campaign to encourage people to adopt a vegan lifestyle. A vegan is someone who does not eat or use animal products. Some might be surprised to learn that a sacked employee's vegan lifestyle was recently considered in the context of his employment claim against his former employer.

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. Amongst many other things, it protects people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace and includes protecting someone from being discriminated against because of a particular philosophical belief they hold. To establish such a belief an individual needs to show that:

  • it is a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information;
  • the belief is genuinely held;
  • the belief concerns a “weighty” and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • it is “worthy of respect in a democratic society”; and
  • it is held with “sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.

An employee of the League Against Cruel Sports discovered that his employer's pension scheme invested in firms involved in animal testing. He told his employer, who did nothing, so the employee told colleagues and was sacked. The employee successfully argued that his ethical veganism was a philosophical belief protected by discrimination legislation. It is important to note that 'ethical' veganism is more than just not eating or using animal products – it goes beyond that ethical vegans try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation in their lifestyle.

The case is an important stepping stone for vegans and more broadly is an indication of the willingness of the judiciary to extend the situations which might amount to 'philosophical beliefs'. However, the decision does not have to be followed and as such it does not make any wholesale changes to the law.

But it is a reminder to employers of the importance of considering the needs of their employees and they must avoid discrimination against employees for their beliefs.

To discuss this or any other employment matter, contact us.