06 January, 2020
As the Christmas blues settle in on 1 January 2020 and we all reflect on the amount of food and drink consumed over the festive period, now is the time to take on the first challenge of 2020 in what has become widely known as 'Veganuary'. This is a challenge that entails eating an entirely plant-based diet in an attempt to detox our bodies and do something for the planet in return!
There is no doubt that this topic sparks much debate, particularly in a diverse work environment amongst the more carnivorous of us all. However, could this be a recipe for disaster i.e. future Tribunal claims?
In a landmark ruling by the Employment Tribunal on 2 January 2020, it has been held that "ethical veganism" i.e. vegans who try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation, should fall under the protected characteristic of "Religion or Belief" for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, meaning that ethical vegans are entitled to protection from discrimination.
Mr Casamitjana was dismissed by the League Against Cruel Sports on grounds of gross misconduct after telling his colleagues that their pension fund was being invested in by companies involved in animal testing - which contradicted the reason for the existence and value of the organisation for whom he worked. He raised this with his employer initially, who promised to change the pension fund. However, they later provided their employees with an ethical alternative, which offered worse rates of return than other ethical pension funds on the market, but kept the unethical pension fund in place.
Mr Casamitjana had a strong belief in ethical veganism, which affected the choices in his everyday life. For example, rather than taking a bus he would walk to avoid crashes with insects or birds on his journey. Therefore, he felt strongly that the pension fund should have been removed and proceeded to tell his colleagues of the other alternatives on the market that they had not been informed of. Mr Casamitjana brought a claim on the basis that he was actually dismissed due to his belief in ethical veganism, which succeeded.
In order for 'Belief' to be considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, it must meet a series of tests, which include the following:
It is important to bear in mind that as a judgment of the Employment Tribunal at first instance it is not legally binding and does not have to be followed. However, it offers guidance to employers faced with analogous situations. However, it is clear from the pleadings that Mr Casamitjana took his ethical veganism extremely seriously and it affected how he conducted his entire life; not only in his food choices, but the clothes he wore, the way he travelled. He even avoided using cash when making payments due to the use of animal products in the newly issued notes, using his bank card as often as possible. This is a high threshold and the chances of employers encountering employees maintaining this degree of adherence to ethical veganism are extremely low.
Employers should, however, note the willingness of the Tribunal to accept such ethical beliefs within the ambit of the Equality Act and be aware of the potential necessity to accommodate varying beliefs. It is perhaps a good time to refresh your employees' equality and diversity training, remind your employees and managers to respect the views and beliefs of their colleagues and to ensure that managers are trained and equipped to manage situations where potential discrimination may arise.
For more information contact Trishna Modessa-Parekh in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 01772 220215. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.