Whether you are a dedicated vegan or partaking in the increasingly popular ‘Veganuary’, the recent decision of Judge Robin Postle at the Norwich Employment Tribunal has raised the profile of veganism and what implications it could have for employers.
On 3 January 2020, the Judge agreed with Jordi Casamitjana, a former employee of the League Against Cruel Sports, that his ‘ethical veganism’ was a ‘philosophical belief’ and should be protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Ethical veganism is considered to be a moral way of life that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible, all forms of animal exploitation. For example, Mr. Casamitjana expressed his commitment included walking, rather than taking a bus, to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds.
Whilst the case was a first instance decision and does not have a binding effect on other tribunals, it was certainly an interesting one.
What is a ‘philosophical belief’?
The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination and harassment related to certain “protected characteristics”, detailed in section 4, namely: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and, sexual orientation.
Section 10(2) of the Act defines ‘belief’ as “any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.”
Whilst a religious belief is generally easier to ascertain, the meaning of ‘philosophical belief’ has been extensively tested in the courts. In R (Williamson and Ors) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment (2005), the House of Lords established that a philosophical belief had to meet certain objective minimum requirements to be protected under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The belief must relate to matters more than merely trivial; it must be coherent in the sense of being intelligible and capable of being understood; and, the threshold for determining whether these requirements were met must not be set too high.
Thereafter, the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Grainger plc and Ors v Nicholson (2010) considered the meaning of ‘philosophical belief’, upholding an employee’s belief that mankind was heading towards catastrophic climate change and had a duty to act to mitigate this as a philosophical belief.
The ‘Grainger Criteria’ used to determine whether a belief qualifies for protection as a ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act 2010 require that a belief must:
- Be genuinely held;
- Be a belief, 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; and
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
How can philosophical beliefs affect you?
Employers and employees must remain aware that ‘religious or philosophical beliefs can include a wide spectrum of beliefs and are protected characteristics that must be respected in the workplace. Employers should remain open-minded and willing to consider alternatives, knowing that any form of harassment or discrimination based on such beliefs will be taken seriously by an employment tribunal.
All our articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information provided.