Sacked vegan brings landmark discrimination case – what do employers need to know?

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula offers advice following the landmark decision last week where veganism was determined to be a protected characteristic

Last week, a vegan man (Jordi Casamitjana) brought a landmark legal action, in which a tribunal decided for the first time that veganism should be protected in law.

The result of Mr Casamitjana’s claim against his former employer, the ‘League against cruel sports’, has a considerable impact on the protections afforded to ethical vegan employees at work. The practice of veganism is longstanding. However, studies released by The Vegan Society suggest the number of vegans in Great Britain has increased significantly in recent times. There are now an estimated 600,000 practising vegans in the UK, which could force many employers to adapt their business practices after the Tribunal recognised  veganism as a philosophical belief.

Key to this case was that the tribunal deemed veganism to meet the criteria associated with philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act 2010. After all, the Act specifically requires that any belief is about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and can attain a certain level of logic, seriousness, structure and importance. Qualifying beliefs must also be genuinely held, worthy of respect in a democratic society and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Interestingly, a 2019 tribunal judge, who ruled that vegetarianism did not qualify as a philosophical belief, suggested that veganism could achieve this status as it possessed the desired level of ‘cogency and cohesion’ – and the Tribunal agreed.

Now ethical veganism is recognised a protected status, then employers will have to treat this same as any religion, or similar qualifying philosophical belief. This means it will be unlawful to treat individuals less favourably for their belief in ethical veganism and that employers may face claims for direct or indirect discrimination for doing so.

In light of this case, employers should review how they support ethical vegans. After all, no employee should feel mistreated at work, regardless of whether they possess a protected characteristic or not. 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.

Furthermore, forcing vegan employees to wear items of clothing made from animal products, such as leather shoes or belts, could also cause unnecessary distress. Therefore, employers should consider relaxing dress codes where necessary for vegan staff, or better yet, adjusting the requirements where possible so that all employees are treated the same.