Veganism to become a Protected Characteristic?

Posted 10/12/2018 : By: Lucy Pakes

In the news this week is the case of Jordi Casamitjana, who says his former employers, The League Against Cruel Sports sacked him because of his ethical #veganism. His lawyers are presenting his case to tribunal as one of #discrimination on the grounds of religious or philosophical belief. Religious or political belief is one of the Protected Characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010.

While cases involving potential religious discrimination are generally easier to recognise, it can be harder to spot a ‘philosophical belief’ which would be covered by the legislation.

To qualify, such a belief has to:

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

These five tests were set out by the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case of Grainger plc v. Nicholson. In this case, Mr Grainger held the belief that “mankind is heading towards catastrophic climate change and therefore we are all under a moral duty to lead our lives in a manner which mitigates or avoids this catastrophe for the benefit of future generations, and to persuade others to do the same." His belief affected every aspect of his life including what he ate and drank and how he chose to travel. His employer had dismissed him on the grounds of redundancy but he argued that the real reason was his climate change views. Stating the five tests above, the EAT found that his views amounted to a ‘philosophical belief’ and were therefore covered under the Equality Act.

In a case coming to the opposite conclusion, the Employment Tribunal found that a belief in English Nationalism did not constitute a valid philosophical belief. In the 2017 case of S T Uncles v NHS Commissioning Board, Mr Uncles had campaigned for the English Democrats Party at several elections and was facing prosecution for electoral fraud, but had not told his employers. He claimed he was sacked because of his political activity which, in turn was a response to his belief in English Nationalism. However, the tribunal found that his expression of this belief (which included a number of anti-Islamic online posts) conflicted with ‘the fundamental rights of others’. On that basis, they said, the belief wasn’t capable of being a philosophical belief under the Act.

Just to make things more difficult, case law has also suggested that the belief doesn’t have to be shared by anyone else to be a valid philosophical belief for the purposes of the Equality Act.

The Veganism case is due to come before the tribunal next March, so it will be interesting to see if we get a new precedent on what a ‘philosophical belief’ looks like…

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