Is ethical veganism a philosophical belief?

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There are a number of case law authorities which have established what is in law a protected philosophical belief and whether such beliefs qualify as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.  These authorities have covered various beliefs including political beliefs in Scottish independence, moral and copyrights in creative works and the refusal to conduct same-sex civil partnerships.

Interestingly there is an employment tribunal hearing due to be heard next month which will determine whether ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief.   This will be of interest to many at a time where veganism has never been so popular and newsworthy.  It will also be interesting to see whether having such beliefs in ethical veganism will garner employment protection rights in law.

The facts of this case relate to Jordi Casamitjana who was employed by the League against cruel sports as a Zoologist as Head of policy and research specialising in animal behaviour.    He had less than two years’ continuous service at the time of his dismissal and so was unable to pursue a claim of ordinary unfair dismissal.

Instead, Mr Casamitjana believes that he was dismissed because he raised concerns to his employer that its pension fund invested in companies that undertook animal testing.    He maintains that as result of making these disclosures he was unfairly disciplined and that the decision to terminate his employment was based on his belief in ethical veganism.

The Respondent employers reject Mr Casamitjana’s assertions and are instead defending the claim on the basis that the decision to summarily dismiss him was based on his failure to follow express management instructions.

Mr Casamitjana’s says that ‘Although the manner in which I was dismissed was intensely distressing for me, some good may come of it if I am able to establish this valuable protection for all ethical vegans.   The hearing …..is not…..about my dismissal but is about the status of ethical veganism as a protected philosophical belief.  If we are successful in that hearing, we will then proceed to a hearing on the specifics of my dismissal.

The employer’s representative however suggests that ‘After due process the Claimant was fairly dismissed for his actions.  This had nothing to do with his beliefs, protected or otherwise.  In view of the lack of service to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim, the Claimant is making a desperate attempt to link his fair dismissal to his stated belief in ethical veganism, which the League against cruel sports categorically refutes.

Interestingly the Vegan Society is supporting Mr Casamitjana in his case and argues that ‘Although we do not usually support legal cases and are not in a position to take a view on the specifics of ……dismissal by his former employer, we see the philosophical belief aspect of his case as being something of universal benefit to all vegans.  We are therefore very happy to support it.

The vegan society went on to say that ‘For many people, veganism is a deeply held belief, however we regularly hear from vegans who have suffered some form of discrimination.  This case has the capacity to improve the recognition of ethical veganism as a coherent, developed and increasingly well supported philosophy, and also confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously.’

Whatever happens at the employment tribunal next month one thing is certain which is that the case will be of significant interest to the media and their headlines are likely to increase further the cause and legal rights of vegans in the UK.

If you have any concerns either as an employer or an employee, then contact Steven Eckett – Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP.   020 7053 6506 and seckett@meaby.co.uk