Ethical Veganism

Less than a week into the new decade – and with all the normal and expected hype of New Year’s resolutions, bad jokes about everyone having perfect vision, ‘Dry January’ and ‘Veganuary’ – along came an Employment Tribunal (ET) judgment on an interesting case which has hit the headlines.

This case involved an ‘Ethical Vegan’, Mr Casamitjana, who was dismissed from his employment with the League Against Cruel Sports. The Tribunal decided that Ethical Veganism was capable of being a protected philosophical belief and, therefore, of being a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

There are a number of important things to point out regarding this case:

1. The Respondent (perhaps unsurprisingly due to their nature) did not challenge the point in question, however the Employment Judge made a point of not accepting the concession and reaching his own conclusions. Written reasons regarding the preliminary hearing judgment will be published by the ET in due course.

2. This case is actually about an unfair dismissal claim in which the Claimant was dismissed for Gross Misconduct. He is arguing that the dismissal was actually because of his being an Ethical Vegan. The Respondent maintains that this was unrelated and that his dismissal was purely related to his conduct. The ET will decide this issue in the future. 

3. First Tier Employment Tribunal decisions are not binding on future Tribunals and do not change the law. This decision is clearly not going to be appealed. They are, however, potentially influential on future conduct, and – certainly with the publicity that this case has received – it could encourage further claims from Claimants with similar philosophical beliefs, and Respondents who may take on the legal argument relating to this point, thus potentially leading to binding case law.

4. Mr Casamitjana had a set of values which were particularly personal to him and which the Tribunal found were capable of amounting to a philosophical belief. This does not mean that the same decision would be made in other cases. Whilst some people choose to simply follow a vegan diet – namely a plant-based diet avoiding all animal products such as dairy, eggs, honey, meat and fish – ethical vegans attempt to exclude all animal exploitation from the choices they make. They do not buy clothing made from wool or leather, and they avoid toiletries that are tested on animals.

This is not necessarily unusual in modern life, however, Mr Casamitjana’s belief system went as far as refusing to use the bus – preferring to walk to work in order to avoid crashes with other animals or insects. The Employment Judge stated that these beliefs were worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.

5. It is unlikely that this would extend into less extreme dietary requirements – such as someone choosing to be vegetarian, for example. However, the crucial point is that this particular ET ruling relates to one particular set of beliefs held by one Claimant. It also does not mean that every vegan has protection under the Equality Act.

6. This said, it is a useful reminder to employers everywhere that these types of beliefs can amount to protected characteristics and a general level of respect and tolerance is always helpful!

 


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Author: Arwen Makin

After studying law at Cambridge University, Arwen trained at leading national law firm Mills & Reeve, qualifying into their employment team in 2002. Arwen has extensive employment law experience, having advised both employers and employees on a wide range of employment issues. Prior to joining ESP she previously worked for a number of years providing advice and representation to both trade unions and their members, and has a particular expertise in the education sector. Due to her diverse experience she is ideally placed to give advice in relation to professional conduct and regulatory matters.