Ethical vegans win workplace legal protection – employers ‘must take heed’

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A landmark tribunal ruling which means the rights of ethical vegans will be protected by law could have major ramifications for employers, legal experts have warned.

Vegan Jordi Casamitjana is currently pursuing a legal claim against his former employer The League Against Cruel Sports after he was dismissed from his role.

Mr Casamitjana claims he was sacked due to his ethical veganism after he disclosed his employer’s pension funds had been invested in firms involved in animal testing – a claim contested by the animal welfare charity.

Today (Friday), a tribunal ruling on the case – though yet to rule on his dismissal – has ruled that ethical veganism is indeed a philosophical belief which entitles workers to protection from discrimination at the hands of employers.

The ruling is one which business must ‘take heed of’ of risk opening themselves up to a raft of potential discrimination claims from their employees, legal experts say.

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Manchester-based Peninsula, said: “Although a first instance decision that could still be appealed, this long-awaited ruling provides useful commentary on the level of legal protection that ethnical veganism should receive in the workplace.

Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula.
Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula.

“Specifically, in the tribunal’s view, it should be considered unlawful to treat individuals less favourably at work because of this belief. This decision stands to have a considerable impact on the protections afforded to ethical vegan employees and employers should be ready for this.

“Crucially, businesses will now need to treat ethical veganism the same as any religion, or similar qualifying philosophical belief, or face a potential direct or indirect discrimination claim from ethical vegans in their employ.”

That view is shared by Kate Gardner, Partner and specialist HR and employment lawyer at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP.

Kate Gardner, Partner and specialist HR and employment lawyer at Clarke Willmott LLP

She said: “This is another step in employment law to widen the protection of the equality act and employers need to take heed.

“There has never been a better time to review your employee contracts and policies to ensure that you operate a business that is diverse and all-encompassing.

“If any employee or worker can show they are being treated less favourably for reason of their philosophical beliefs, such as in this case, then the door becomes open to claim unlimited compensation in the employment tribunal.

“To date however, in similar type cases, judges have been very careful to state in their judgment that a case will be fact-specific. They are clearly seeking to resist ‘opening the floodgates’ whilst at the same time reflecting the public view that, for example, vegetarianism, veganism or even an environmentally sustainable lifestyle may amount to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.”

With veganism on the rise – there are now an estimated 600,000 practising vegans in the UK – properly catering for them can boost a workforce as well as keeping an employer clear of potential pitfalls, Palmer warns.

She said: “In light of this ruling, employers may want to consider reviewing how they support ethical vegans in their company, and if any changes are required. It should be remembered that no employee should feel mistreated at work.

“As vegans abstain from the consumption of animal products employers should pay close attention to the food on offer in any staff canteen or pre-arranged business lunches, ensuring there are always vegan options available.

“Aside from the potential legal implications as seen here, catering for a diverse workforce can be critical in both attracting and retaining key talent.”

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