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Is veganism a religion?

An Employment Tribunal will next year consider if "ethical veganism" is a belief that would fall within the Equality Act 2010.

Employment solicitor Francesca Hawker discusses this landmark case.

Jordi Casamitjana, a zoologist specialising in animal behaviour, was recently dismissed for gross misconduct. He is arguing that he was dismissed for disclosing that his employer invested pension funds in firms that were involved in animal testing.

As a result of his disclosures, he claims he was treated unfairly and the decision to dismiss him was because of his belief in ethical veganism. It is his view that all that remains is to decide whether or not veganism counts as a “religion or belief”.  If it does, it falls within one of the nine “protected characteristics” set out by the Equality Act 2010.

It may well be that “ethical veganism” would fall within the remit of religion or belief for the purposes of the Equality Act. It has been held by the Employment Appeal Tribunal that:

“The Law does not accord special protection for one category of belief and less protection for another. All qualifying beliefs are equally protected. Philosophical beliefs may be just as fundamental or integral to a person’s individuality and daily life as are religious beliefs.”

General Municipal and Boilermakers Union v Henderson

The European Court of Human Rights has previously set out a number of requirements for a religious belief to qualify for protection under the European Convention:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Therefore, if Mr Casamitjana can show the above, the Tribunal may well find that “ethical veganism” is protected under the Equality Act 2010. The debate over philosophical beliefs is not a new phenomenon. The Tribunal have in recent years made findings that environmentalism and the belief in climate change and anti-fox hunting, were all capable of being beliefs under the legislation.

However, a finding that “ethical veganism” is a belief under the Act alone will not make his dismissal unfair. The employer, League Against Cruel Sports, has issued a statement on its website which states as follows:

“The Claimant in this case was dismissed for gross misconduct and for failing to follow express management instructions that were given to him.  After due process, the Claimant was fairly dismissed for his actions. This had nothing to do with his beliefs, protected or otherwise.  In view of the lack of service to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim, the Claimant is making a desperate attempt to link his fair dismissal to his stated belief in “ethical veganism”, which the League Against Cruel Sports categorically refutes.”

Often, employers are faced with employees who have been dismissed prior to accruing two years’ service, whom try to find a reason which would allow them to bring a claim for unfair dismissal without the requisite length of service, such as discrimination or whistleblowing claims. These claims can cost employers in both time and money in defending such actions.

We would always advise that the employer maintains a good paper trail which can show the real reason for dismissal. For more information on how we can help you, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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