Is veganism a protected characteristic under the Equality Act?
Sejal Raja summarises a recent case which ought to determine whether veganism is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
This question was alluded to by the Employment Tribunal in the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited & Others. In this case, it was held that being a vegetarian was not a protected characteristic but that veganism could be.
It is timely that as many individuals embark on veganuary, the Employment Tribunal in the case of Casamitjana v the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) considered whether veganism could be a protected characteristic, and therefore be covered under the Equality Act 2020.
Understanding the protected characteristics under the Equality Act
Religion or belief is one of nine “protected characteristics” covered by the Equality Act 2010.
It is unlawful for an employer to directly discriminate, by treating an employee less favourably than others because of their religion or belief.
To qualify as a philosophical belief, veganism must:
- be genuinely held;
- be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
- be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others;
- be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
Does veganism qualify as a protected characteristic?
In considering whether veganism could be a protected characteristic, the above must be held by the individual.
Mr Casamitjana advised the Employment Tribunal that being a vegan impacts his everyday life. For example, Mr Casamitjana will, for example, walk instead of catching a bus to avoid any crashes with insects or birds, as well as excluding any products made from animal exploitation like wool, leather, and animal testing.
The Employment Judge determined that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required for it to amount to a philosophical belief and is therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Implications of the decision
As it is a first instance decision, it does not have a binding effect on other tribunals and each case will depend on its own facts.
Notwithstanding this, it could give rise to an increase in claims by employees who are vegans and believe that they are discriminated against because of their beliefs.
This decision not only has an impact in the employment setting but also on the provision of goods and services.
For example, individuals could bring a claim in the county court on the basis that they were discriminated against because of their belief when accessing goods and services.