Ethical veganism recognised as a philosophical belief
6 January 2020
In the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, the Employment Tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a "philosophical belief" and therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).
The Claimant, Mr Casamitjana, was employed as Head of Policy and Research by the League against Cruel Sports, which is a charity campaigning against hunting and other animal welfare issues. The League dismissed Mr Casamitjana for gross misconduct on the basis that he had publicly disclosed that their pension fund invested in organisations involved in animal testing, which was at odds with the charity's objectives.
Mr Casamitjana brought an Employment Tribunal claim alleging that he was dismissed because he is an 'ethical vegan', meaning his decision to avoid any products derived from animal exploitation is on ethical grounds. Mr Casamitjana alleged that this was a philosophical belief under the EqA and was therefore protected.
In a previous case vegetarianism was held not to be protected, as the judge considered it to be a lifestyle choice, which did not pass the philosophical belief test. This contrasts with other previous cases, where the Employment Tribunals have held that a strong belief in climate change, anti-fox hunting and Scottish independence were protected.
Although there is no statutory definition of a philosophical belief, Employment Tribunals have suggested that, in order to be a protected characteristic, beliefs must be:
- genuinely held by the employee.
- a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint.
- as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human behaviour.
- sufficiently cogent, serious, cohesive, important and have a similar status to a religious belief. However, this does not require it to "allude to a fully-fledged system of thought" (i.e. it does not need to be an '-ism').
- worthy of respect in a democratic society and not be incompatible with human dignity.
In this case, the Tribunal concluded as a preliminary point that ethical veganism satisfied the tests required for veganism to be a philosophical belief and therefore protected under the EqA.
The Employment Tribunal's ruling was the first part of the claim and it will consider at a later stage whether Mr Casamitjana's dismissal was linked to his philosophical belief as opposed to his employer's assertion that he was dismissed on account of misconduct.
What does this mean for employers?
Each case needs to be considered on its facts and therefore not all employees who claim to be vegans will have protection, for example, those who go vegan for January's month of veganism. Furthermore while a decision of an Employment Tribunal does not amount to binding legal precedent, there no doubt this case will have important and far-reaching effects in the employment field because the range of social philosophical beliefs that will be protected by the EqA continues to widen. Consequentially, employers will need to take care when dealing with any employee who claims to have a philosophical belief that could give rise to action against the employee that their decision is not in any way linked to that belief.