Ethical veganism and philosophical belief

Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports

Ethical veganism’ can be a ‘philosophical belief’ and therefore protected in law.

Background

Mr Casamitjana claimed that when he raised concerns with his employer, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), about its investment strategy and was subsequently disciplined, the decision to dismiss him was because of his belief in ethical veganism. As a preliminary issue, the tribunal considered whether his ethical veganism qualified as a ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act. The LACS conceded that Mr Casamitjana’s beliefs were all-encompassing and that, cumulatively, they amounted to a philosophical belief and therefore never seriously challenged that he had a protected belief. It argued that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct and not because of his beliefs.

Tribunal decision

The tribunal held that Mr Casamitjana’s beliefs did qualify as a ‘philosophical belief’. For a belief to be protected under the Act, it must be genuinely held; not an opinion or viewpoint; concern a weighty or substantial aspect of human life; have attained a certain level of cogency, seriousness or importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society.

The judge commented that 'veganism is not just about choices of diet, but about choices relating to what a person wears, what personal care products he or she uses, their hobbies and the jobs he or she does. They are in fact people who have chosen to live, as far as possible, without the use of animal products’.

He then examined in detail the effect of ethical veganism on Mr Casamitjana’s day-to-day life (see para. 20-22 of the decision) and a couple of examples demonstrate this:

  • When going out and if the destination is within an hour walking distance, he would normally walk to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds when taking a bus or public transport.
  • He does not wear any clothes, shoes, hats or fashion accessories that contain animal products, which includes products containing wool, silk, fur, leather, teeth, horns or tortoiseshell, furthermore he does not keep any such products in his home.

The judge found it ‘easy to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence before me that ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and thus a protected characteristic’.

Link to judgment: https://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKET/2020/3331129_2018.html

Comment

While this decision is not a surprise to many academics and commentators, it is important to remember that this is the judgment of the first instance employment tribunal. It does not have to be followed and does not implement any change in the law. It does not mean that all vegans, or even all ethical vegans, can claim to be protected under the Equality Act. Other ethical vegans will not have exactly the same set of beliefs as Mr Casamitjana. The protection of a philosophical belief is, by its very nature, fact specific to the individual with the belief, and the tribunal will look in detail at that individual’s belief to decide whether it satisfies the tests for protection.

That said, it gives employers guidance in relation to the likely treatment of ethical veganism and as such, the types of steps they should be considering for their employees and the workplace. On a practical level, this decision is likely to mean that employers will look to update their equal opportunities policies and procedures to make it clear that ethical veganism should be considered as a philosophical belief and to ensure that ethical vegans are afforded the same protections as employees with other religious or philosophical beliefs in the same was as Christians or Muslims, for example. It is also to likely mean thinking about the types of products and services used by companies in the workplace, from vegan-friendly food options in the cafeteria to uniform and furniture choices avoiding wool or leather, as well as the type of soap or other toiletries used, ensuring that they have not been tested on animals.

Our study on 1,000 vegan workers and 1,000 employers showed, nearly half (45%) of vegans feel discriminated against by employers. Nearly a third (31%) have felt harassed at work or unfairly treated due to their veganism and nearly half (48%) of employers don’t do anything to accommodate vegans such as vegan food in the canteen or supplying toiletries free from animal testing.