HR Expert: Ethical Veganism

My client has heard that it is now unlawful to discriminate against ethical vegans at work. What sort of things do they need to consider?

Whilst there has been no ultimate decision yet, the preliminary hearing in the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports has ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, with the tribunal judge insisting that it was “important” and “worthy” of respect in a democratic society.

As this is only an employment tribunal decision, this does not necessarily protect all ethical vegans from discrimination. Although any future tribunal is likely to refer to this ruling in similar cases, they are under no obligation to agree that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief. Having said this, given the risk involved your client would do well to re-think how they treat ethical vegans within their organisation.

As a first step, it is important to understand the distinction between veganism and ethical veganism as this protection will not apply to everyone. In the case of Mr. Casamitjana, ethical veganism was described as a belief that ‘animals should not be exploited for any purpose’. As ethical veganism extends beyond simply eating a plant-based diet anyone looking to receive this protection will need to demonstrate their commitment to this belief.

Once they have a clear understanding of ethical veganism your client would do well to review their existing business practices to avoid creating a hostile or unwelcoming environment for ethical vegans. Whilst your client may consider introducing a specific policy on ethical veganism, any existing anti-discrimination policy should be sufficient enough.

Having said this, the added publicity around ethical veganism may encourage other employees to behave in a way that creates an uncomfortable environment for ethical vegans at work. Whilst individuals may attempt to pass off discriminatory remarks as ‘workplace banter’, your client should be quick to intervene and take appropriate disciplinary action where necessary.

If catering is provided at work then your client should review the options available to ensure these remain appropriate. The same approach should also be taken when arranging Christmas parties and other work-related social events to ensure that ethical vegans’ dietary requirements are considered.

Certain uniform requirements may also create an unwelcome working environment for ethical vegans, especially if there is a need to wear clothes derived from animal products such as leather shoes. Therefore, your client should consider where adjustments can be made to avoid any unnecessary contact with animal products and avoid claims of discrimination.

In summary, whilst this tribunal decision does not expressly provide all ethical vegans with protection from discrimination at work, it does offer food for thought as far as your client is concerned and should encourage them to adapt any existing practices from a best practice perspective.

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