Ethical Veganism: Protected Philosophical Belief

Jordi Casamitjana said he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund was being invested into companies involved in animal testing. Further he claimed he was unfairly disciplined for making this disclosure and that the decision to dismiss him was because of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.
 
At the tribunal, Judge Robin Postle gave a short summary judgment, ruling that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief and is therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010. He also ruled that Mr Casamitjana, 55, who lives in London, adheres to the belief of ethical veganism.
 
For a belief to be protected under the Act, it must meet a series of tests including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with fundamental rights of others. The ruling means that ethical vegans are entitled to protection from discrimination.
 
Dietary vegans and ethical vegans both eat a plant-based diet, but ethical vegans also try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation including not wearing clothing made of wool or leather and not using products tested on animals.
 
Casamitjana’s solicitor, Peter Daly, an employment lawyer from Slater and Gordon, said ethical veganism was “a philosophical belief held by a significant portion of the population in the UK and around the world”.
 
“This was the first of a two-part employment tribunal,” he said. “Now the question of ethical veganism has been determined by the judge, the litigation will move on to determine the lawfulness of Jordi’s treatment by the League Against Cruel Sports. The recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 will have potentially significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services.”
 

What should you do now?

 
Always check your policy documents before taking any action. Be clear about the allegation of wrongdoing. Gather supporting evidence.
 
In this case it is interesting and important to note that according to Rhys Wyborn, an employment partner at Shakespeare Martineau who acted for the respondent, this hearing was preparation for the real crux of the matter as to why the claimant was dismissed. He said “In view of its animal welfare value, the league did not contest the issue of whether ethical veganism itself should be a protected belief, with the league maintaining that it’s irrelevant to the core reason for the dismissal.” He added “The league is now looking ahead to the substantive hearing in this case and to addressing the reason for Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal, which it maintains was due to his misconduct and not the belief he holds.”
 
When seeking to discipline an individual in your employment ensure that you have completed a thorough investigation and be clear about the allegation of misconduct. A clear and fair process with supporting evidence will support any defense of claim against your business. There is no legal requirement for investigation (unless your policy states there will be one) however it is advisable to ensure you have all the required evidence to support the allegation before starting a formal disciplinary meeting.
 
Always seek guidance from an experienced HR professional as the issue arises so you can be assured of clear advice from the off.
 
If you have any queries or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Alcumus PSM HR team for assistance via email psm.enquiries@alcumusgroup.com or call us on 01484 439930.
 
Alcumus PSM (People & Safety Management) specialises in human resources (HR) and health and safety (H&S) consulting for small and medium-sized enterprises.
 
Written by Melanie Darlington, Senior HR Consultant