Landmark vegan ruling provides legal food for thought for employers

Since its launch six years ago, the Veganuary campaign has inspired more than half a million people in 178 countries to take the pledge and try vegan for January and beyond.

It was timely that the first few days of 2020 were filled with media headlines about a legal ruling that has generated far-reaching implications and food for thought for employers.

Taking centre stage was an employment tribunal at which an employee claimed he was sacked because of his ethical veganism.

Yet his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, contested Jordi Casamitjana’s claim, maintaining he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

In a landmark ruling, the judge decided that that ethical vegans like Mr Casamitjana should be entitled to the same legal protections in British workplaces as those who hold religious beliefs.

Media reports told how his case centred on the claim that he was sacked by the animal welfare charity after disclosing it invested pension funds in firms involved in animal testing.

Mr Casamitjana said when he drew his bosses’ attention to the pension fund investments, they did nothing so he informed colleagues – and was sacked as a result.

It is the first time that ethical veganism has been decreed a “philosophical belief” and, as a result, is protected by law.

“Religion or belief” is one of nine “protected characteristics” covered by the Equality Act 2010.

The judge, Robin Postle, ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 by satisfying several tests – including that it is worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity, and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.

A vegan is someone who does not eat or use animal products. Some people choose to simply follow a vegan diet – that is, a plant-based diet avoiding all animal products such as dairy, eggs, honey, meat and fish.

However, ethical vegans like Mr Casamitjana try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle. For instance, they avoid wearing or buying clothing made from wool or leather, or toiletries from companies that carry out animal testing.

The ruling is important for employers as it means they will now have to respect ethical veganism, and ensure they do not discriminate against employees for their beliefs.

The implications are far-reaching, not least because the legal protection will apply beyond employment, in areas such as education and the supply of goods and services.

It could also encourage others to seek similar protection for their own different philosophical beliefs – such as climate change.

Afterwards, Mr Casamitjana, who lives in London, said he was “extremely happy” with the ruling in the case – which is still ongoing – adding that he hopes fellow vegans in employment “will benefit”.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, should you have any questions or concerns regarding the Equality Act, or any other employment law-related issues, please do not hesitate to contact this article’s author, Solicitor Lazuna Ullah, or a member of our Employment Law team here at Milners on 0113 245 0852 or email us at hello@milnerslaw











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