In January 2020 the Employment Tribunal in Norwich made a judgment about ethical veganism that got the whole (employment law) world interested in the definition of a protected characteristic. The judge said that ethical veganism was “important” and “worthy” of respect in a democratic society. This makes it worthy of protection under the Equality Act as a philosophical belief.
The claimant claims unfair dismissal and discrimination. This hearing was to determine whether or not he had a characteristic that was protected under the Equality Act 2010 or not.
The protected characteristic that was considered in this case was ‘philosophical belief’ which is a part of the ‘religion or belief’ characteristic in the Equality Act. This is probably the characteristic that gets the most attention. What is a philosophical belief, after all? Another recent case looked at a belief in climate change, which was also held to be a philosophical belief.
A vegan is someone who does not eat or use animal products. Some people choose to follow a vegan diet, avoiding all animal products such as dairy, eggs, honey, meat and fish. Ethical vegans try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle. For example, they avoid wearing or buying clothing made from wool or leather, or toiletries from companies that carry out animal testing.
In this case, the Claimant worked for the League Against Cruel Sports. He discovered that their pension fund invested in firms involved in animal testing. The claimant pointed this out to his employer and no action was taken. He then discussed it with his colleagues and was dismissed. The questions of whether this was unfair or discriminatory are still to be decided at the time of writing.
Of course, the Equality Act also applies to non-work situations. This judgment that ethical veganism is worthy of being a protected characteristic could have far-reaching consequences in schools and in companies supplying goods and services. This is only a Tribunal judgment, which means it is not binding in the higher courts, but it does give us all something extra to consider.
There’s a good article about this case on the BBC News website. If you want to read more, click here.
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