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An employee of the animal protection charity, the League Against Cruel Sports, has brought a claim asserting that he was discriminated against and sacked as a result of his vegan ‘belief’.  The League Against Cruel Sports maintain he was dismissed for gross misconduct for reasons unconnected to his veganism.

In considering the Claimant’s claim, the employment tribunal will consider whether or not veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’ such that it falls within the ‘Religion or belief’ characteristic which is protected by the Equality Act 2010 (the “Act”).

‘Religion or belief’ is one of nine protected characteristics covered by the Act.  The others are age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; sex; and sexual orientation.

In order to qualify for protection under the Act, a belief (such as veganism) must be:

  • Genuinely held;
  • A belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • A belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • A belief with a certain level of cogency, seriousness, coherency and importance; and
  • A belief worthy of respect in a democratic society, that is not incompatible with human dignity, and does not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

If the tribunal decides that veganism falls within the ‘religion or belief’ protected characteristic, then vegans will be protected from the following:

Direct Discrimination

It will be unlawful to treat vegan employees less favourably because of their vegan beliefs.

Indirect Discrimination

It will be unlawful for an employer or prospective employer to put in place a rule, policy or practice which places vegans at a disadvantage, unless there is an objective justification.  This could include for example, the range of food served in a staff canteen.

Harassment

This is where an employee is subjected to conduct relating to their veganism which is unwanted and has the purpose or effect (no intention to harm is required) of violating their dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Victimisation

It will be unlawful to victimise a vegan because they have complained about discrimination in one way or another.

Employers will need to think carefully about whether their actions, or those of their employees, may amount to discrimination against vegans.  Employers may need to consider updating policies and training to help prevent discrimination occurring.

This is a developing matter, which the Employment team at Edwin Coe is following closely.  The case is due to be heard in March 2019 and we will analyse the judgment as soon as it is released.

If you have any questions regarding this topic or any other employment issue, please contact George Orman – Associate, or any member of the Edwin Coe Employment Team.

Edwin Coe LLP is a Limited Liability Partnership, registered in England & Wales (No.OC326366). The Firm is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. A list of members of the LLP is available for inspection at our registered office address: 2 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3TH. “Partner” denotes a member of the LLP or an employee or consultant with the equivalent standing.

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