Hello and welcome back to your weekly case law update. Last week’s double update looked at breach of contract and employment tribunal proceedings. This week we will be looking at religion/belief discrimination and vegetarianism.

Previous updates on religion/belief discrimination set out the definitions of both a religion and a belief. This week we will be focusing on philosophical beliefs, which must:

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

Unlike a religion, a belief can be a philosophical one meaning any philosophical belief can qualify so long as it satisfies the definition. In the past this has included left-wing views and humanism. However, extreme views that conflict with the fundamental rights of others do not qualify for protection.

In light of this, today’s question is:

Does vegetarianism qualify as a protected belief for purposes of the Equality Act 2010?

Mr Conisbee, the Claimant, worked for Crossley Farms Ltd, the Respondent, at their Fritton Arms hotel. The Claimant was a vegetarian and throughout employment was given snacks that he was subsequently told had meat in them. This included a croissant that had been basted with duck fat.

Following being berated for wearing a creased shirt, the Claimant resigned and claimed direct discrimination and harassment against the Respondent and its employees. As the Claimant had less than two years’ service, he could not claim constructive unfair dismissal.

The Claimant argued his vegetarianism was a philosophical belief that satisfied the definition above. His claim centred on the fact the decision to preserve the life of animals satisfied the genuine and substantial aspects of the test and the fact more than 20% of the world’s population is vegetarian meant the belief was sufficiently cogent.

The Respondent argued that not all vegetarians hold the belief that animal life should be preserved. Some are vegetarian for dietary reasons, others personal taste, some as part of a religion/sect of religion.

The Employment Tribunal rejected the claim. It held that whilst the Claimant’s beliefs were admirable and genuinely held, it did not satisfy the criteria to be a protected philosophical belief. In the discussion, the Employment Judge reasoned veganism was likely to be a protected belief as it covered the way animals were reared and encompassed environmental concern as well as animal welfare.

The takeaway point:

No, in this case vegetarianism was not a protected belief but veganism probably would be. This follows the whistleblowing cases which held making protected disclosures about how animal rights charities invested money in non-vegan companies and restaurants mislabelling non-vegan food as vegan would qualify for protection from suffering detriments as a result of making protected disclosures.

However, one point the Employment Judge missed in this comparison is that many vegans choose to be vegan for non-ethical reasons. A cursory Google search will reveal many athletes who have become vegan for performance reasons and return to eating meat once their competitive season is over.

Likewise, many members of religions, particularly Catholicism and Judaism, are not strict followers but still consider themselves part of the religion. Others convert to a religion for marital reasons to appease relatives. The fact many members are not devout should not reduce protection offered to those who do wish to manifest their religious belief.