Is Workplace Discrimination Against Vegans Illegal?

12 March 2019

There is a case currently underway in which a dismissed employee is claiming that his former employer discriminated against him on the basis of his ethical veganism. The case will be heard at an employment tribunal this week, where it will be decided whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief that should be protected by law.

The Case Explained

Jordi Casamitjana is an ethical vegan, which means that he is a vegan for ethical reasons, such as animal welfare and the environment, as opposed to personal health reasons. Ethical vegans not only eat a plant-based diet, but they also avoid buying animal-based products, such as leather or wool, as well as products that exploit or test on animals.

Mr Casamitjana was working for the animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports, when he discovered that the charity was investing its pension funds in companies that tested on animals. He raised this with his managers, and when nothing was done to address the matter he disclosed the information to other employees. The League Against Cruel Sports then dismissed Mr Casamitjana.

He has now brought a Discrimination Claim, stating that he has been discriminated against by his former employer on the basis of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism. It is now up to the employment tribunal to determine whether ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief, and is therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Workplace Discrimination Explained

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of a protected characteristic. The nine protected characteristics, as set out in the Equality Act 2010 are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or philosophical belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

It is unlawful for an employee to be treated less favourably than their colleagues because of any of these characteristics. Discrimination can come in many forms, but examples could include someone being dismissed from their role because they are considered too old, or a female employee being overlooked for a promotion because she is pregnant.

Should Ethical Veganism be a Protected Characteristic?

What the employment tribunal will need to determine this week is whether ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief. If it does, then it would fall into the category of 'religion or belief' and therefore be recognised as a protected characteristic.

In order to qualify as a philosophical belief, there are certain criteria that must be met. Firstly, the belief must be genuinely held and it must hold a certain level of importance and seriousness. It must also be worthy of respect in a democratic society and be compatible with human dignity, not conflicting with anyone else's fundamental rights. Furthermore, it must be a 'belief' that relates to a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, and not merely be an opinion or viewpoint.

Mr Casamitjana's case is being described as a landmark case, as it will resolve the ongoing debate of whether ethical veganism should be recognised as a philosophical belief. If the case is successful, ethical veganism will become legally recognised as a protected characteristic, meaning that ethical vegans would then be protected from discrimination on the grounds of this belief.

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