Vegetarian –v- Vegan – Protected
On 6th April 2018, Mr Casamaitjana was sacked from his job as Heady of Policy and Research at the League Against Cruel Sports. The reason given for his sacking was that he had discovered that the League’s pension funds were invested in a way he felt was unethical, and he took steps he had been told not to take to raise awareness of the issue. Mr Casamaitjana is an ethical vegan, and his issue with the investments was linked to his veganism, meaning he could complain to an employment tribunal about his dismissal.
The right to hold a religion or belief is enshrined in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. UK Employment law protects holding religion and beliefs under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010. A belief is defined as “any religious or philosophical belief.” The description was expanded on in a 2009 case which added tests including that the beliefs go beyond simply holding an opinion (such as, for example, that the football team that you support is obviously the best football team in the whole world), and that the belief itself be consistent and organised.
In Mr Casamaitjana’s case, his former employer did not contest that his veganism was a protected belief. However, the Tribunal still needed to make a formal determination on that issue, and in his case it did decide that ethical veganism was protected.
Mr Casamaitjana’s position can be contrasted with that of Mr Conisbee. Mr Conisbee was a waiter/barman employed by Crossley Farms Limited until his resignation on 30th August 2018. Mr Conisbee claimed that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his vegetarianism.
Mr Conisbee claimed that his belief was that animals should not be bred, caged or killed for the purposes of food, and that the environment would be better without slaughtering animals for food.
In Mr Casamaitjana’s case, the Tribunal did not hear any arguments that ethical veganism is not a protected belief. Mr Casamaitjana was in one sense knocking on an open door. In Mr Conisbee’s case, the employer did not accept that as a matter of principle vegetarianism was a protected belief.
The Tribunal in Mr Casamaitjana’s case were particularly impressed with the evidence they heard about vegan history and community, and decided that ethical veganism was more than simply an opinion, but amounted to a moral code. It also decided that it was clearly capable of a consistent definition and was organised across a number of groups and individuals.
However, unlike veganism, the Tribunal in Mr Conisbee found that there are many different reasons a person might choose to be a vegetarian. They found that Mr Conisbee’s beliefs about the treatment of animals were only opinions. The Tribunal found that vegetarianism was more of a life style choice – one with many fragmented and different approaches from person to person – whereas veganism was something much more than that.
For employers, neither of these decisions is binding. It is possible that both will be developed in the future. In particular some of the arguments against vegetarianism being protected could conceivably be used against veganism, but were not in Mr Casamaitjana’s case. Also, some of the arguments used in Mr Casamaitjana’s case were not apparently used by Mr Conisbee.
In the meantime, it would be prudent for employers to think carefully about some perhaps unexpected implications of the decision. For example, while it is obvious that consumption of certain foods is central to both veganism and vegetarianism, it is less obvious that things like clothing, travel, and the type of investments of a workplace pension funds might be challenged as discriminatory.