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Vegetarianism – a lifestyle choice or a philosophical belief?
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate directly or indirectly, harass or victimise a job applicant or employee because of their religion or belief. The question recently put before an employment tribunal – is vegetarianism a belief under the Equality Act 2010? The answer – no.
In the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd, the Claimant brought a claim of discrimination against his employer on the grounds of religion or belief – the belief in question being vegetarianism.
The tribunal acknowledged that vegetarianism was worthy of respect in a democratic society and that the Claimant did hold a genuine belief in both vegetarianism and animal welfare. However, the tribunal found that vegetarianism failed to meet other legal hurdles required for a ‘belief’ to be protected under the Equality Act:
- It did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, and instead, was a lifestyle choice;
- It did not attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance as people have numerous, differing and wide varying reasons for adopting vegetarianism; and
- It did not have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.
Consequently, the tribunal held that vegetarianism was not capable of amounting to a philosophical belief and was, therefore, not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This decision is not binding on other tribunals but does provide an interesting insight into how employment tribunals consider the issue of belief claims based on vegetarianism.
Would veganism be considered a protected characteristic? The tribunal in the case of Conisbee did make the observation that vegans, unlike vegetarians, might meet the requirement for a certain level of ‘cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’ on the basis that the reasons for someone choosing to become a vegan would be fundamentally the same for all vegans. We may receive an answer to this question sooner rather than later as another employment tribunal will be ruling on whether ethical veganism is capable of being protected as a philosophical belief later this month. Watch this space…