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Is veganism a philosophical belief?

6th December 2018

Is veganism a philosophical belief?

An Employment Tribunal is currently deliberating whether a Claimant, (Mr Jordan Casamitjana) was discriminated against due to a religious or philosophical belief when he was dismissed by the League Against Cruel Sports.

The Claimant asserts that he organises his life in accordance with ‘ethical veganism’ by following a vegan diet and through caring about animal welfare, the environment and his own health. He alleges that veganism is a belief system which impacts every single aspect of his life (strict vegans will avoid using or consuming any products which risk the exploitation of animals, including wearing leather shoes, purchasing products tested on animals and foods such as dairy products and honey).

In order for a philosophical belief to be protected under discrimination law, it must

  • be genuinely held by the individual
  • be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on current information available
  • relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity, and must not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
  • have a similar status or cogency to religious belief

Mr Casamitjana may face difficulty successfully arguing that his veganism is a belief, rather than a choice to ease environmental stresses caused by meat production, or promotion of animal welfare. However past Employment Tribunals have found that a belief in environmentalism and climate change was capable of constituting a philosophical belief, as was opposition to fox hunting.

Even if he is successful in arguing he holds a philosophical belief, Mr Casamitjana will still have to show that his dismissal constituted less favourable treatment because of that belief.

The League Against Cruel Sports has issued a statement that his dismissal was due to gross misconduct. If the reason for the eventual dismissal is objective and not connected with the potentially philosophical belief, then Mr Casamitjana’s claim is likely to fail.

To minimise litigation risk, a pragmatic employer should try to avoid any connection with any sincerely held belief, when sanctioning or dismissing an employee.

The Employment Tribunal’s ruling is expected in March 2019.

 

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