Vegan discrimination in the workplace

Vegan discrimination at work has now become a hot topic, with our Alex Monaco’s comments on the subject being reported recently (June 2019) by The Sun, The Mirror, The Express, Plant Based News, and even LADbible.

There is a vegan discrimination case in the employment tribunal at the moment, reported here by the BBC.

The tribunal is being asked to consider whether being vegan is a ‘philosophical belief’ and therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Bizarrely, even though the employer withdrew their opposition to this point, the judge apparently still wanted to consider it. So we expect a judgment on that in October 2019.

If veganism is protected, then this means that employers will have to ensure that they don’t discriminate against vegans at work unless there is an ‘objective justification.’

For example, a vegan employee is asked to make cups of tea for the team using cows’ milk, but the employee feels that they can’t do this because of their belief.

What would an objective justification be? Perhaps that no shops in the area sell alternative milks, and there are no other employees who could make the tea.

The above is simply an example of what could unfold in this developing area of law. There are many scenarios whereby vegans could face discrimination at work, and indeed many of these scenarios could be viewed as objectively justified by an employment tribunal.

We at Monaco Solicitors are endeavouring to keep up with developments and indeed promote the vegan agenda as we think that it is a good cause.

 

Our Will Burrows says:

”I think you’d have to establish that it was a fundamental tenet of vegan belief that adherents cannot be involved in the handling of cow’s milk or assisting others to drink it and to do so would be a violation of that belief. I’m not sure most vegans would think that.

The courts are pretty strict in how they view this sort of thing as they see the mischief that could be made by some otherwise.

The British Airways “cross” case failed as wearing a cross wasn’t a fundamental part of Christian belief and the need to enforce uniform requirements trumped her right to express her faith.

Likewise, I believe there’s authority that Muslims cannot claim they cannot be involved in the sale of alcohol to non-Muslims as that isn’t a fundamental part of their belief (only consumption if you are Muslim), for example.

It would be hard to prove in the case of veganism (indeed any new, non-deist system of belief) as there are no obvious authorities on any dogma.

It’s a loosely structured set of beliefs with some core principles but it’s an evolving belief system with various people believing different things.

This makes it fair to establish it as a valid belief, but very difficult to establish what exactly is or isn’t protected if you are vegan.

So, I think someone being bullied for being vegan would obviously be protected, whereas someone disciplined for failing to carry out an otherwise lawful instructed as it offended their beliefs would probably struggle (as others have).”

 

Our Alex Monaco says:

”The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in a number of cases (including Vartic and Jakobski) that you cannot interpret someone’s subjective beliefs, so long as they are cogent and strongly held.

Not all Christians go to church, as not all vegans are against making cups of tea.

So an employment judge would not have to find that there is a vegan dogma which prevents a vegan from making a cup of tea, in order to rule that being forced to make tea was discrimination in a particular case.

It’s about the belief of that individual vegan person at the time.”

Also worth checking the legal position on veganism in a detailed article in The Lawyer, here.

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