Q. Following the recent veganism ruling, does this mean all vegans who work for me will be able to claim discrimination based on their philosophical belief?
A. In the court case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, the employment tribunal confirmed that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required to be a philosophical belief, and is therefore afforded legal protections under the Equality Act 2010.
Following this ruling, employers may worry that all vegans who work for them could potentially claim discrimination. However, this is not necessarily the case.
This decision does not mean all vegans, or even those who identify as ethical vegans, are now to be considered as having a philosophical belief. It specifically applied to the beliefs that the claimant, Jordi Casamitjana, maintained.
He refused to use any product made from ‘animal exploitation’, such as leather, and avoided catching buses due to the potential for the vehicle to crash into insects or birds.
As the claimant himself has stated, there are many different forms of veganism, and he views his own beliefs as something other vegans can work towards.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines veganism as the practice of not eating or using any animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, cheese, or leather. Strict veganism prohibits the use of all animal products, not just food, and is a lifestyle choice rather than a diet.
This ruling has received a significant amount of publicity, and it is highly likely to encourage more employees who do feel discriminated against because of their veganism to consider bringing claims.
What Mr Casamitjana demonstrated was a willingness by tribunals to consider ethical veganism as having equality law protections and, for now, we should proceed under this ruling.
Similar claims could serve to widen these protections in future and employers need to be ready for this.
Additionally, Casamitjana’s ruling was only a first-instance decision. Future claims could easily progress to higher courts, such as the Employment Appeal Tribunal or the Court of Appeal.
To protect themselves against the potential for future liability, employers may wish to consider what steps they can take to provide more support to vegans at work and see if any changes are required.
As vegans abstain from the consumption of animal products, employers should pay close attention to the food on offer in any staff canteen or pre-arranged business lunches, ensuring there are always vegan options available.
Other aspects of the company may also need to be considered, such as whether vegan employees can be sent to meet clients who deal with animal-based products, whether compulsory uniforms or company equipment may use materials that go against vegan beliefs or whether social events cater for vegans.
No employee should feel mistreated at work and, as an addition to this, other staff in the company may need to be reminded of appropriate workplace conversations.
It may also be advisable to include that the company will respect vegan beliefs within policy and outline how this will be done.