Case law has held that, for a philosophical belief to have protection under the Equality Act 2010, the belief has to meet the following conditions:
- it 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; and
- it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not be incompatible with human dignity.
Mr Jordi Casamitjana was employed by the League Against Cruel Sports. The League Against Cruel Sports sacked Mr Casamitjana. He claims this was because he blew the whistle in respect of his employer’s pension fund investments in firms involved with animal testing. Animal testing was against his ethical vegan beliefs. The League Against Cruel Sports allege they sacked Mr Casamitjana on the grounds of his gross misconduct.
The League Against Cruel Sports actually conceded that ethical veganism did amount to a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act. However, Reading Employment Tribunal, at a preliminary hearing, decided that it was not sufficient for Mr Casamitjana to hold that belief and for his employer to agree it amounted to a belief. It was necessary for the tribunal to determine that point for itself.
Norwich Employment Tribunal considered the issue on 2 and 3 January 2020. The judge found “overwhelmingly” that ethical veganism constitutes a philosophical belief and is a protected characteristic.
The case has attracted much publicity in light of the extended protection for vegans – see Dentons’ Victoria Albon’s comments to People Management and HR Grapevine. However, amongst the headlines one should remember that other ethical vegans might not have the same set of beliefs as Mr Casamitjana, and therefore their belief may not amount to a protected characteristic.
In addition, Mr Casamitjana’s case has only just got going. A tribunal will now determine in a case starting on 20 February 2020 whether the League Against Cruel Sports fairly dismissed Mr Casamitjana because of his alleged gross misconduct. Mr Casamitjana alleges his dismissal amounted to an act of discrimination based on his philosophical belief. If a tribunal again finds in his favour, Mr Casamitjana will be entitled to loss of earnings and damages for injury to feelings.
Employers should take note of this finding and how it may affect their business – are vegans catered for and can ethical vegans object (now with protection) from handling non-vegan goods? Even if an employer does not hold the same belief as its employee, it may be unlawful to take action against the employee because of their belief. Employers should exercise caution in this regard.