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Ethical Veganism now a Protected Characteristic in Employment Law

Ethical Veganism now a Protected Characteristic in Employment Law

Date: 16th January 2020 | By: Claire Malley | Categories: Discrimination, Employment law, Employment Tribunals

ethical veganismFollowing a Preliminary Hearing on January 2nd and 3rd 2020, Norwich Employment Tribunal found that the Claimant’s “Ethical Veganism” is a philosophical belief and therefore it falls within the protected characteristic of Religion or Belief under the Equality Act. Whilst this is not a binding judgment for future Tribunals, it means that it is potentially unlawful to discriminate against an employee because of them being an ethical vegan. So what is Ethical Veganism and where does this leave employers?

Background to the Case

Ethical Veganism is more than simply following a vegan diet for health reasons. Ethical vegans believe that it is wrong to harm or exploit animals for food, clothing, or any other purposes. The Respondent, The League Against Cruel Sports, is an animal welfare charity that campaigns against sports such as fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing.

The Claimant made inquiries into where the Respondent’s pension money was invested, concluded that some of it was invested in companies involved in harming animals and in defiance of management instruction emailed colleagues and told them how to re-invest their pension money.

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Equality Act Breach

He was dismissed for gross misconduct. He did not have the necessary two years’ service to bring a claim of “ordinary” unfair dismissal and has alleged that his dismissal was related to his Ethical Veganism and therefore in breach of the Equality Act. Before it could make a finding on whether the Respondent acted lawfully in dismissing him, the Tribunal had to decide whether he had a protected characteristic in the form of his belief and found that he did. There will now be a further hearing to consider whether the dismissal was lawful.

Key HR Advice for Employers

  • Whilst there is now a further established ground on which an employee can claim they have unlawfully been treated unfavourably and can bring an Employment Tribunal claim with under two years’ service, it doesn’t mean that an employer can’t take any action against an ethical vegan.
  • A protected characteristic is not a blank cheque for any employee in terms of unsatisfactory conduct or performance. But employers need to be sure that any action taken against an employee with such beliefs can be shown to be for reason of unsatisfactory conduct or performance and not for holding the beliefs.
  • Whatever action is taken should be proportionate and consistent with the way people who do not share the protected characteristic have been or would have been treated in the same circumstances.
  • Employers must also take seriously any complaint of harassment (e.g. unwelcome jokes) that arise and also give consideration to any complaint that there is a provision criterion or practice in operation that puts an ethical vegan at a disadvantage.

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