Veganism. Whilst uncommon in past decades, it is now becoming increasingly prominent in modern British society as attitudes towards animal welfare and climate change move closer and closer to the centre of mainstream news (alongside a small event involving the European Union which you may or may not have heard about – coverage has been somewhat low key). This, combined with a host of celebrities including Ariana Grande, Lewis Hamilton and former Smiths frontman Morrisey advocating a plant-based vegan diet, has meant the number of Brits turning to veganism has dramatically increased over the past 10 years with the Vegan Society’s most recent survey (carried out in 2016) estimating there are just over 900,000 vegans in the UK. Of these, the Vegan Society estimates there are approximately 360,000 are what are known as ethical or lifestyle vegans who have adopted a vegan lifestyle on ethical grounds, for example avoiding products deriving from or tested on animals as they cause suffering and premature death. With more and more people electing to jettison animal-based products in favour of a plant diet based on ethics rather than preference, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the Courts, or, more aptly, an Employment Tribunal, was asked to consider whether the extent to which this has cleared the ceiling of being simply a lifestyle choice to the extent it should not be considered a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010. And this is exactly the question an Employment Tribunal will be required to answer at a landmark hearing in March 2019. Background The claim, brought by Mr Jordi Casamitjana, a former employee of the League Against Cruel Sports (“LACS”), sites that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed as a result of his ethical veganism. Having discovered the LACS was investing their pension fund in companies involved with the testing of products on animals, Mr Casamitjana raised a number of concerns for which he claims he was ultimately dismissed as a result. Mr Casamitjana claims his dismissal was not as a result of gross misconduct as the LACS contend but due to his belief in ethical veganism which he maintains should be considered a philosophical belief and thus protected from discrimination. The Law The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the grounds of religion or belief, including dismissing an employee because they hold that religion or belief. In order for Mr Casamitjana to successfully prove his claim, he must satisfy the Tribunal his ethical veganism is:
  1. genuinely held;
  2. a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  3. attains a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  4. worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others; and
  5. a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
Whether Mr Casamitjana will be able to satisfy each of these criteria will be eagerly anticipated by Employment Practitioners throughout England and Wales, although one would imagine there may be some difficulties establishing ethical veganism is not a viewpoint based on current information and prevailing attitudes towards conservation and preservation. Another interesting question would be whether, if veganism were to be designated a philosophical belief (and let us say for argument’s sake the decision is upheld following what would no doubt be lengthy and costly appeals), that would then open the metaphorical floodgates for other lifestyle choices to be classed as philosophical beliefs? Is it possible, if not a tad melodramatic, that we end up with a situation in the workplace where one person’s belief clashes with another to the extent a ruling of the Employment Tribunal would be required to resolve these differences? Good for lawyers no doubt but for employers, perhaps not so much. In any event, it will be fascinating to read to Employment Tribunal’s findings on this when they are eventually published after the hearing next Spring. Watch this space.   If you have any queries regarding employment which you would like to discuss with us, please do not hesitate to contact our Employment Law Team (Matthew Strain: mstrain@strainkeville.co.uk and Adam Jones: ajones@strainkeville.co.uk).