Ethical veganism gains protection in the workplace

The employment tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a "philosophical belief" and so is protected in law. Rosie Shipp of Birketts looks at the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (LACS).

Ethical Veganism

What is “ethical veganism” and is it a “philosophical belief”?

An ethical vegan is someone who not only follows a vegan diet but extends the philosophy into other areas of their lives and is against all forms of animal exploitation.

Currently, there are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, one of which is the right not to be discriminated against due to a religion which also includes a person’s “philosophical beliefs”.

In the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), Jordi Casamitjana claimed he was sacked by the charity because of his ethical veganism and argued that ethical veganism should be considered a philosophical belief.

The case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (LACS)

Mr Casamitjana claims that his dismissal from the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) was discriminatory because he is an ethical vegan. LACS argue that he was dismissed for gross misconduct, having disclosed that LACS invested pension funds in firms involved in animal testing. Mr Casamitjana did not have sufficient continuity of service (two years) to bring a straightforward unfair dismissal claim.

Before the employment tribunal could rule on the reasons behind the dismissal, they had to decide whether his status as an ethical vegan ought to be protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. If so, it would mean that his ethical veganism qualified for the level of protection similar to that granted to other protected characteristics, such as disability or age.

What was the tribunal's decision?

Whilst the judgment has not yet been officially published, it has been reported that Judge Postle was “overwhelmingly satisfied” that Mr Casamitjana’s ethical veganism constituted a philosophical belief. The applicable legal tests for this are that the belief:

  1. was genuinely held
  2. was in respect of a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  3. had a level of cogency, seriousness and importance akin to a religious belief
  4. was worthy of respect in a democratic society
  5. was not incompatible with human dignity

What are the practical implications of the case?

It should be made clear that this ruling concerned Mr Casamitjana’s own belief system only and does not automatically mean that all vegans now qualify for special protection. The ruling also does not amount to a binding precedent, which would require an appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal or a higher court. This is unlikely, as LACS did not actually contest the point. They instead argue that Mr Casamitjana’s belief was irrelevant to his dismissal.

Whilst perhaps less significant than the headlines would suggest, this case is likely to raise concerns for some employers that similar claims will be brought. Although the legal tests are fairly settled, the concept of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic in the workplace is novel and poses the question as to just how wide the net could (and should) be cast. Businesses most likely to be concerned are those in the agricultural, food production/retail and catering industries, where employees are expected to process or handle any form of animal product.

Whilst the wider practical effect of this ruling remains to be seen, a proper assessment of whether an individual’s belief would likely constitute a philosophical belief for legal purposes might be advisable. It does of course remain open to employers to show that decisions were made because of an unrelated business reason, which is what LACS will need to do at the substantive hearing.

Rosie Shipp Birketts

About the author

Rosie Shipp is a Solicitor at Birketts. Rosie advising both employees and employers on a broad range of both contentious and non-contentious matters including Employment Tribunal claims, grievances, disciplinary procedures, service contracts, and issues that may arise on termination of employment.

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Equality Act 2010 (Legislation)

Publication date: 13 January 2020