Dismissed because of Vegan beliefs?

Veganism is rising significantly, but how can this affect employers? A current case could be a landmark ruling in what constitutes a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

Statistics published by The Vegan Society in 2016 reported there were 542,000 vegans in Great Britain. A survey carried out earlier this year by comparethemarket.com estimated there are now 3.5 million vegans in Great Britain. Given the vast growth in veganism, it is perhaps unsurprising that the press is reporting the decision in Mr Casmitjana’s case will be a “landmark ruling”.

Jordi Casmitjana alleges that he was dismissed after he discovered his employer The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) was investing its pension funds into firms that are involved in animal testing. He claims he was then dismissed because of his vegan beliefs.

Mr Casmitjana identifies himself as an “ethical vegan” and therefore in addition to following a vegan diet, he also opposes the use of animals for any purpose such as wearing leather or wool. It should be noted that the LACS deny these allegations and allege Mr Casmitjana was sacked due to gross misconduct.

An employment tribunal will decide in March 2019 whether “ethical veganism” constitutes a philosophical belief under Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”).

The Law

An employer must not discriminate against an employee because of a ‘protected characteristic’ i.e. age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or belief. The Employment Appeal Tribunal has previously held that to qualify for protection under the Act, a philosophical belief must:

  • be genuinely held
  • be a belief, not just an opinion or viewpoint
  • be sufficiently cogent, serious, cohesive and important
  • apply to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • be worthy of respect in democratic society
  • not be incompatible with human dignity
  • not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

There has already been a lot of legal comment on the case with many in the profession anticipating the employment tribunal will hold “ethical veganism” to be a philosophical belief. Indeed, the Equality and Human Rights Commission identity veganism in their guidance as a philosophical belief.

However, if Mr Casmitjana is successful, he will then have the hurdle to overcome of proving at a further hearing that he was discriminated against because of this belief. Although with the rise in the number of claims being issued at the Employment Tribunal, it could be some months before a final hearing is listed. Mr Casmitjana’s case has already attracted a lot of media attention, which he will hope continues given he is crowdfunding to pay his legal fees and to date has risen over £6,000 towards his legal fees. Leaving aside the whys and wherefores of the claim, LACS will no doubt want to consider what the damage to its reputation may be from this episode.

If you are an employer facing a claim at an employment tribunal, please contact our Employment team for advice.