In a recent case the Claimant had been employed for approximately 4 months as a waiter/barman at a hotel.
The Claimant resigned following an incident when he had been told off for attending work in an un-ironed shirt. It is accepted the Claimant was shouted at and may have been sworn at in front of customers. The employer asserted this incident was the reason for the Claimant’s resignation. The Claimant alleged that he had been given snacks by his colleagues that contained meat derived products, such as pudding including gelatine and a croissant basted in duck fact. He argued that those acts amounted to harassment and discrimination against him as a vegetarian and that was the reason for his resignation. The Claimant lodged a claim for discrimination on the basis that he had been discriminated against as a vegetarian on the grounds of his philosophical belief. At a preliminary hearing, the tribunal reviewed the relevant caselaw in determining whether vegetarianism was a protected belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
The tribunal considered each of the criteria for establishing a philosophical belief under the legislation as follows:
The belief must be genuinely held
In his witness statement, the Claimant stated that it was his belief that, “…animals should not be bred, caged or killed for the purposes of food” and that, “I happen to believe that the environment would be a better place without slaughtering animals for food”.
The Claimant asserted that many vegetarians including the Claimant are genuine in their belief, and there is no sensible argument to suggest that the belief system behind vegetarianism is made up, or fanciful. The employer did not doubt that the Claimant’s belief was genuinely held and this was accepted by the tribunal also. The employer’s case was simply that being a vegetarian itself cannot amount to being a protected characteristic.
It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint
The Claimant argued that many vegetarians, the Claimant included, base their genuine belief on the premise that it is wrong and immoral to eat animals and subject them and the environment to cruelty and the perils of farming and slaughter. For the Claimant and many vegetarians this is not a mere opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available, but instead a serious belief integral to the way of life.
The tribunal concluded that the Claimant’s belief that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food was an opinion and a viewpoint. It was simply not enough to have an opinion based on some real, or perceived, logic.
It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
The tribunal concluded that the Claimant’s case failed on this test quite simply, because the belief of vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour, it is about preserving the life of animals and fish. It was essentially a life style choice.
It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
The Claimant cited the fact that vegetarianism accounts for a large portion of the world’s pollution. The Claimant referred the tribunal to an article in Wikipedia which stated this to be 21.8% in 2010. The Claimant argued that this shows that vegetarianism attains a high level of cogency, seriousness and importance and is certainly worthy of respect in a democratic society.
The tribunal concluded that, whilst such arguments might be advanced for veganism (where the belief held by each vegan is largely the same), there are many different reasons for why one might be a vegetarian. Accepted reasons might be a respect for sentiment life, moral concern about the raising and slaughter of animals, health/diet benefits, environmental concerns, economic benefit and/or personal taste. Therefore, as there are at least six different reasons for why one might be a vegetarian there was no cogency or cohesion in that belief. By contrast, vegans do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products, and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control. The tribunal concluded that there you can see a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, which appears contrary to vegetarianism, i.e. having numerous, differing and wide varying reasons for adopting vegetarianism.
It must have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs
The tribunal found that, whilst for the Claimant it might well be that his belief is very strong, for a significant number of vegetarians their belief is far less serious and clearly not at the level of a religious belief.
The tribunal concluded that having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not enough in itself for it to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
Many vegetarians simply prefer to avoid meat and fish but choose not to go as far as practising veganism. Vegetarianism is some way removed from veganism and could be argued to be a far less serious belief. The tribunal concluded for that reason it falls short of attaining the level of cogency or seriousness similar to a religious belief.
It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
It was recognised that vegetarianism clearly met this criterion.
The Tribunal’s conclusions
For the reasons set out above, the tribunal concluded on balance that the Claimant’s vegetarianism was not a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010.
In a case reported in the BBC news, a tribunal has also considered the extent to which religious beliefs that conflict with the employer’s professional code of conduct may be protected. In that case, the doctor worked as a health and disabilities assessor on behalf of the Government. The Department of Work and Pensions required all Health and Disability Assessors to use such pronouns as may be preferred by a particular client, regardless of that client’s biological sex.
The tribunal found that the doctor’s refusal to refer to transgender clients by their chosen pronoun on the basis of his Christian belief that every person is created by God as either male or female was not protected as a religious belief, as it was not compatible with his clients’ human dignity and conflicted with the fundamental rights of others.
A preliminary employment tribunal hearing to determine if veganism is a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010 is listed for October 2019. If veganism is a protected characteristic, the implications for employers are that, for example, it would be against a vegan employee’s convictions to use leather-products or to be required to purchase cow’s milk and that such a requirement would be discriminatory, unless the employer could show this was justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.