Religion or belief is one of the nine ‘protected characteristics’ covered by the Equality Act 2010. This means that you are protected from being discriminated against (predominantly by your employer) as a result of your religion or belief.
‘Belief’ is defined under the Equality Act as “any religious or philosophical belief”.
It appears that the intention of the draftsman was not to incorporate veganism as a philosophical belief. In 2009 when the final draft of the Code of Practice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission was produced (required to be considered by Tribunals in Equality Act cases) veganism was removed as a belief with the government specifically stating that it was not covered by the legislation. It seems that this opinion is now somewhat outdated given that nowadays veganism is not always to simply follow an animal- free diet. The distinction is that Dietary Vegans refrain from consuming animal products whereas Ethical Vegans not only follow a vegan diet but also extend the practice into all areas of their lives and contest the use of animals for anything.
Ethical Veganism goes far beyond a dietary choice, it is often defined as a philosophical belief and in the modern day is clearly defined and extremely popular.
Until recently, it appeared we would get a judicial answer to this question. In the case of Jordi Casamitjana -v- League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). Mr Casamitjana was dismissed by his employer, LACS, after he raised concerns that part of the pension fund was being invested with organisations who tested on animals. It was his position that he was dismissed because of his philosophical belief (Ethical Veganism).
LACS have stated on their website that Mr Casamitjana was in fact dismissed for gross misconduct, namely a failure to follow management instructions.
Either way, the Tribunal would have had to address whether Ethical Veganism was a belief protected by the Equality Act.
In an earlier case, Nicholson -v- Grainger PLC and others (2009), the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed that Environmentalism was in fact a belief protected by the Equality Act as the belief was deemed far more than just an opinion. In reaching this decision, the EAT provided guidance in its judgement determining what would constitute a belief protected by the Equality act. It must be:
- Genuinely held
- Be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
- Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity and/or conflict with the fundamental rights of others
Mr Casamitjana’s case was set for hearing in March 2019 however it appears from Mr Casamitjana’s Crowd Justice page that the former employer has conceded that Ethical Veganism is a protected philosophical belief and that the hearing is vacated. Whilst this is good news for Ethical Vegans, we have missed out on the opportunity for a judicial answer.
Without a conclusive judicial decision we cannot yet give a definitive answer however given the recent precedents and guidance above it appears that being a Dietary Vegan would not amount to a philosophical belief protected by the Equality Act yet being an Ethical Vegan would.