Can you be discriminated against because you are Vegan?

Can you be discriminated against because you are Vegan?

discrimination at work because you are Vegan

A recent survey has suggested that almost half of vegan employees feel discriminated against by their employers and believe that they have been unfairly treated due to their beliefs. The discrimination takes the form of vegans being urged to keep their beliefs to themselves and coming under pressure to fit in at company functions where menu choices may be limited.

Is a vegan a protected belief?

The questions of whether vegans should be protected by law as a philosophical belief and therefore within the ambit of discrimination is a question to be answered by an employment tribunal case.  Jordi Casamitjana claims that he lost his job at the League against Cruel Sports on account of his vegan beliefs.  He had objected to the fact that the League invested some of its pension fund in companies which carried out tests on animals.  The employer claims that he was dismissed for gross misconduct and that he is seeking to use his veganism as the reason for dismissal.

Understanding protected characteristics 

The employment tribunal will rule later this year on whether or not veganism can be a protected belief.  In order to claim discrimination, an employee or former employee has to establish that they have been treated unfairly or less favourably on grounds of a protected characteristic. 

These characteristics include: 

  • sex
  • race
  • disability
  • age
  • pregnancy
  • religious or philosophical belief. 

The case of Jordi Casamitjana will focus upon whether or not veganism can be a philosophical belief. Clearly, not all beliefs are protected. For example you cannot skip work just because you believe in having a long lie in every morning. In previous such cases, the tribunal has ruled that a protected belief must concern “a weighty and substantial aspect of human life”

In one such case, Grainger v Nicholson, an employee of a London property company claimed unfair dismissal after he refused to take a flight for what he regarded as a trivial reason, given his beliefs about the importance of combatting human induced climate change.

A view on personal responsibility

Some commentators believe that, unlike race or gender, people are responsible for their beliefs and therefore arguably they should be responsible for bearing the consequences which they incur. In another case, the employment tribunal ruled against a Christian employee who was reluctant to work on a Sunday. Arguably, if you object to Sunday working, you should find a job that doesn’t require it.  If we have too many kinds of protected belief, this must risk undermining the notion that only some beliefs are especially weighty, and giving undue importance to trivial beliefs.

If you are concerned you are being discriminated at work or have any other employment law query please talk to Paul Grindley on 0113 320 5000 or email paulg@winstonsolicitors.co.uk 

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