The Claimant, Mr G Connisbee, raised concerns that he was discriminated against because he was a vegetarian. The Claimant resigned from his employment after 5 months of service, alleging that the reason he resigned was because of the way he was treated for being a vegetarian. He argued that vegetarianism was capable of satisfying the requirement that it was a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
At a Preliminary Hearing, the Employment Tribunal had to consider whether vegetarianism could amount to a philosophical belief and therefore have protection under the Equality Act 2010.
What is a philosophical belief?
Guidance from the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the definition of philosophical belief is as follows:-
(a) The belief must be genuinely held
(b) It must be a belief, not an opinion or view point
(c) It must be a belief as to weight in substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
(d) It must attain a certain level of cogency’ seriousness, cohesion and importance
(e) It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
(f) It must have similar status or cogency to religious beliefs
(g) It need not be shared by others
(h) Whilst support of a political party does not in itself amount to a philosophical belief, a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine might qualify
(i) A philosophical belief may be based on science.
What did the Employment Tribunal find?
It was accepted by the Employment Tribunal that the Claimant is a vegetarian and he has a genuine belief in his vegetarianism. However, the Employment Tribunal held that vegetarianism is about lifestyle choice and could not relate to weight and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. It also held that the belief must have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs. Clearly, having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not enough in itself for it to have similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
The Employment Tribunal concluded that vegetarianism was not a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act. Although it did allude to the fact that Veganism may well amount to a philosophical belief and therefore protected under the Equality Act.
Irrespective of whether an individual’s belief is a Protected Characteristic all employees and workers should be treated with respect and dignity in the work place. Not only can this give rise to potential claims under the Equality Act but also claims for constructive unfair dismissal and the raising of grievance which can take up significant amounts of management time to deal with.