Employee argues that his belief in vegetarianism amounts to a religious or philosophical belief.

The employment tribunal recently considered whether vegetarianism is a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) at a Preliminary Hearing in the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd.

The Facts

Mr Conisbee resigned from his position after he was employed for approximately 5 months and brought a tribunal claim for discrimination. Mr Conisbee argued that his belief in vegetarianism amounts to a religious or philosophical belief, which would be regarded as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The employment tribunal considered this issue at a preliminary hearing.

Under the Act, discrimination on the grounds of a protected characteristic, such as religion or belief, is unlawful. The explanatory notes to the Act clarify which criteria amounts to a protected characteristic under this category of philosophical beliefs:

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

Although the tribunal considered that Mr Connisbee's vegetarian belief was genuinely held and was worthy of respect in a democratic society, it failed to meet the other legal hurdles for protection:

  • It did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. Vegetarianism was not about human life and behaviour, it is a lifestyle choice and in Mr Connisbee's view believing that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food.
  • It did not attain a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. The reason for being a vegetarian differs greatly. Vegetarians adopt the practice for many different reasons such as lifestyle, health or concern about animals welfare and personal taste.
  • It did not have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.

Comment 

This decision is only a first instance decision and therefore is not binding on other tribunals. However, the case illustrates how tribunals are approaching religion or belief claims based on vegetarianism.

In its decision the tribunal commented that veganism (as opposed to vegetarianism) may well qualify as a belief capable of protection. The Judge noted that, while the reasons for being a vegetarian differ greatly among vegetarians, the reasons for being a vegan appear to be largely the same:

"Vegans simply do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products, and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control. There you can see a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, which appears contrary to vegetarianism, i.e. having numerous, differing and wide varying reasons for adopting vegetarianism."