Ethical veganism – to become a protected philosophical belief?

Posted 02/01/2020 : By: Kathryn Pratt

With the New Year officially upon us, many people are looking to make changes such as cutting out the junk food, exercising more and quitting drinking/smoking. Veganuary (a pledge to try a vegan diet for the month of January) is also set to be a hit. According to the non-profit organisation Veganuary, more than a quarter of a million people took the pledge to move to a plant-based diet during the 2019 campaign.

Veganism has grown exponentially since 2014, increasing from 150,000 to 600,000, according to charity the Vegan Society. In light of this, it’s important that employers understand the needs of vegan employees. An employment tribunal this week will decide whether ethical veganism is to be classed as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The case Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, if successful, will establish that the belief entitles vegans to protection from discrimination.

To be classed as a philosophical belief, five criteria should be met:

  1. the belief must be genuinely held
  2. it must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  3. it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  4. it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  5. it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, and compatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others.

Casamitjana, the claimant in the above-mentioned case holds that “veganism involves much more than just not eating food with animal ingredients, it’s a philosophy and a belief system which encompasses most aspects of my life.”

As with any other philosophical belief or religion, employers should raise awareness across their organisations to ensure vegan employees feel safe and respected. Some recommendations are:

  • watch out for bullying and harassment and deal with any complaints in the same way they would for complaints concerning sex, religion, race and so on. Some may view mild teasing as ‘banter’ but it can be perceived by others as hurtful or offensive so ensure your staff know who to talk to if they’re having a problem. It may also be useful to remind employees of the company’s bullying and harassment policy
  • to create a culture of understanding and respect. All employees are different and should feel welcome at work regardless of what they eat
  • if your office has an onsite canteen provide adequate vegan options. Also, be mindful when booking staff events such as the office Christmas party or bringing snacks to meetings
  • make accommodations where possible. Vegan employees may feel uneasy undertaking certain tasks such as visiting a client at a farm. Why not swap different jobs around team members to ensure everyone is comfortable with their assigned task.

If you have any questions relating to managing vegan employees, please contact a member of the team.

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