Under the 2010 Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against an individual because of their religion or philosophical belief. That said, identifying what can amount to such a belief can be tricky and there have been numerous claims that have sought to place this label. For example, previous cases have determined that philosophical beliefs protected under discrimination legislation include anti-hunting beliefs and a belief in the higher purpose of journalism, whilst a belief in wearing a poppy to show respect to those who gave their lives in war was not.
Now, in the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, the employment tribunal has confirmed that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required to be a philosophical belief. This case concerned the claimant Jordi Casamitjana, who claimed he was unfairly dismissed from his position after raising concerns that the organisation’s pension fund invested in businesses that were involved in animal testing. Identifying as an ethical vegan, the claimant asserted that his dismissal was due to his beliefs. With the tribunal confirming that such a belief should be afforded legal protections, he is now free to bring a claim for discrimination.
Organisations should note that this decision does not mean all vegans, or even those who identify as ethical vegans, are now to be considered as having a philosophical belief. This ruling specifically applies to the beliefs that Casamitjana maintains and will not be shared by all vegans. Casamitjana’s beliefs extend beyond eating a plant-based diet; he refuses to use any product made from ‘animal exploitation’, such as leather, and avoids catching buses due to the potential for the vehicle to crash into insects or birds. Additionally, whilst the organisation in this case did not contest the view that ethical veganism should be legally protected and is therefore unlikely to appeal it, this ruling does not mean that a separate case with a similar situation could not reach a different outcome.
Having said that, this ruling has received a significant amount of publicity and it is highly likely to encourage more employees who do feel discriminated against because of their veganism to consider bringing claims. As a result, organisations may wish to consider what steps they can take to provide more support to vegans and see if any changes are required. For example, it is advisable to place close attention to the food on offer in any staff canteens or pre-arranged business lunches, ensuring there are always vegan options available.