Discrimination in the workplace


The Vegan Society estimated that there were 600,000 vegans in Great Britain in 2018 – up from 150,000 in 2014.  That represents 1.6 percent of the population.


Jordi Casamitjana describes himself as an ethical vegan to distinguish himself from those who eat a vegan diet only as a lifestyle choice.  He told the BBC in an interview last year that for him veganism is a belief that affects every single aspect of his life.


Mr Casamitjana was dismissed by his employer (an animal welfare charity) for what it alleges was gross misconduct.  Mr Casamitjana alleges that he was discriminated against on the ground of religion or belief because of his veganism.


An Employment Tribunal pre-hearing is scheduled for October this year to rule on whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief that amounts to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.  For a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act it must:


  • be genuinely held;
  • be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint;
  • be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with fundamental rights of others. For example, Holocaust denial, or the belief in racial superiority are not protected[1].


If the Employment Tribunal decides that ethical veganism is a protected characteristic, then that may have very significant implications for employers. 


A survey of 1,000 vegan employees and 1,000 employers conducted by a firm of employment solicitors suggests that:


  • nearly half of vegan employees questioned felt discriminated against by their employers;
  • nearly half of employers don’t do anything to accommodate vegans; and
  • just under three quarters of employers did not realise that under the Equality Act 2010 philosophical beliefs are a protected characteristic.


So, think seriously about this and how as an employer you would deal with an employee making derogatory remarks about a vegan colleague or what steps you could take to accommodate vegans in your workplace.  Afterall, fairness, acceptance and inclusion should sit at the heart of every business and you would not put up with derogatory comments about someone’s race, gender or sexual orientation.


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[1] Religion or belief: a guide to the law, Equality and Human Rights Commission

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