Discriminating against Vegans: What employers should know
In a widely reported decision, the Employment Tribunal has found in a preliminary hearing that Mr Jordi Casamitjana’s belief of ethical veganism is protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. Mr Casamitjana is awaiting a final hearing on the merits of his claim to determine whether he was dismissed and discriminated against due to his ethical veganism beliefs.
The legal principles of the case are somewhat complex and employers should be aware of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Employment Statutory Code of Practice which offers guidance on an individual’s manifestation of a religion.
Although the final judgment in the case is yet to be passed, the preliminary judgement may give way to an increase in discrimination claims by ethical vegans and others holding philosophical beliefs and employers should now be prepared for employees to pay closer attention to their approach, practices and policies with a view to raising a challenge. Employers should at least have an increased awareness over matters concerning an employee’s religion and belief and when it comes to the question of vegans, perhaps have regard to some of the following:
Managing Employee’s Conduct
Employers that place arbitrary limits on an employee’s right to manifest their belief may be at risk of unlawful discrimination claims. Equally, employees should not be harassed or embarrassed because of their views, nor should an employee harass others who do not adhere to the same beliefs.
Employees may be expected to store their food in shared fridges. In the case of Jewish employees for example the EHRC’s Code suggests that employers should supply a separate fridge shelf to address, for example, an orthodox Jewish worker’s religious belief that their food should not come into contact with pork products. It could be advisable to make the same accommodation for a vegan person. Employers that do not currently provide vegan options may face employee demands to do so.
Employers may require employees to wear uniforms or may provide employees with certain clothing and footwear Requiring an employee to wear leather or other materials from animals might amount to indirect discrimination. To avoid indirect discrimination, any strict dress codes should be justifiable as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, such as health and safety. Where an employee has vegan beliefs, it seems likely that a non-animal product alternative to the uniform should be explored and provided, if proportionate.
Beliefs about the need to reduce travel or to use of certain forms of transport may arise; in Mr Casamitjana’s case this included modes of transport that are more likely to injure animals or that harm the planet. Rather than requiring attendance at meetings or conferences in person, an employer may be asked to offer remote attendance or to critically assess what travel is essential.
Each case involving an employee’s religion or belief or, manifestation thereof will have its own specifics and employers will have to act based on the facts of each individual case it faces. If you would like to discuss the Casamitjana case or, how your business can act in response to the preliminary decision made then please speak to a member of our Employment Law team on 01274 864999.