Hopefully everyone had a relaxing Christmas and New Year, and what better way to start a new year than to post a blog! There has already been quite an interesting development at the start of the year with an employment tribunal ruling that ethical veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’ and thus is protected by the Equality Act under “religion or belief”.
The case itself
Jordi Casamitjana was dismissed by his employer, League Against Cruel Sports, for disclosing to his colleagues that the organisation invested pension funds in firms involved in animal testing. Mr Casamitjana alleged that he disclosed the information to his colleagues after he had informed his superiors of this only for them to do nothing. The organisation stated that this disclosure was a gross misconduct offence and Mr Casamitjana was dismissed as a result.
Although the issue of Mr Casamitjana potentially being treated less favourably (and ultimately dismissed as a result) because of his vegansim is still to be considered, the Judge’s ruling that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief could have wide and long-term employment law implications going forward.
So what are the main implications for employees and employers going forward?
There is interesting debate on this but the main points in relation to protection from “less favourable treatment” seem to be:
- Ethical vegans being protected from any bullying or harassment in the workplace – hopefully individuals who have these beliefs wouldn’t be subjected to abuse from a moral perspective anyway, but perhaps that extra legal protection will make it less likely.
- As with any other protected characteristic, ethical veganism as a belief can be recognised as forming part of ‘day one rights’ whereby individuals do not need to have a certain length of employment service to be protected by the law. Therefore, ethical vegans would be protected in areas such as recruitment, selection for promotion, the provision of training opportunities, disciplinaries and grievances, contractual terms such as pay and annual leave, as well as workplace practices.
The final point above on workplace practices looks to be an interesting area of debate. For example, the BBC article in this blog uses the example of a worker on a supermarket till refusing to put a meat product through the till. Further, could employees rightfully refuse to carry out duties even when they are not in direct contact with animal products – for example, would employees be within their rights to refuse to interact or carry out work on behalf of a third party if their respective business area deals with animal products?
It will be interesting to see how this develops as time goes on.