Are Vegans Protected by UK Employment Law?

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Employment tribunal rules that ethical vegans are protected from discrimination as it is a philosophical belief

A timely ‘Veganuary’ tribunal ruling has offered some interesting insight into the law’s stance on ethical veganism beliefs and employee discrimination and dismissal.      

Whilst not a binding legal precedent, an employment tribunal judge has recently ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The judge has decided this by satisfying several tests which included; that it is worthy of respect in a democratic society, that it is not incompatible with human dignity and it is not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.

The case is still ongoing and we are yet to hear whether the employee’s dismissal was, in fact, unfair, or whether any compensation will be payable.

Ethical Veganism: A ‘Protected Characteristic’

One of the nine "protected characteristics" covered by the Equality Act 2010 is "religion or belief" along with age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex and sexual orientation. This tribunal ruling means that ethical vegans could be protected from discrimination on the grounds of their belief in veganism. Therefore, employers need to be aware that they may be liable for discriminatory acts against employees for their vegan beliefs. 

It is worth noting that ethical vegans differ from people who choose to follow a vegan diet. For example, as well as avoiding consuming any animal products, they also avoid wearing clothing made from leather or wool and do not use products from companies which carry out any form of animal testing.

Interestingly, a case from 2018 which considered whether vegetarianism qualified for protection under the Equality Act failed. The tribunal in that case held that the belief did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and had not attained a certain level of influence, seriousness or importance.  

What This Means for You

It will be interesting to see what the exact implications of this case will be. Individuals may be encouraged by this case, to start to bring claims that they have been discriminated against for other strongly held, topical beliefs, such as beliefs on climate change. Employees who work in supermarkets or restaurants may also start to refuse to serve customers with animal products. 

Therefore, employers need be aware that their actions as a result of employee’s behaviours, if they are because of a person’s strongly held belief, may result in the employee trying to bring a claim for discrimination against them. 

How We Can Help

For any further information on what this could mean for your business, or for advice as an employee, contact our specialist employment team today. Give us a call on 0330 123 1229, send us an email via info@smithpartnership.co.uk or complete our contact form.

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