Religion or belief are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Whilst it is not defined in the statute for a belief to be protected it has been held that it must be genuinely held and must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief. In the case of Mr J Casamitjana Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports the question was whether ethical veganism could qualify as a philosophical belief which would give grounds for a claim of discrimination.
Mr Casamitjana, an ethical vegan, worked only in organisations that supported animal protection. When he discovered that his employer’s pension funds were being invested into companies which he considered were unacceptable as they might harm animals he alerted colleagues and advised them to take steps to invest in alternative funds. The employer told him that he should not advise colleagues to make these financial changes. However he continued to send emails and as a result was dismissed.
A Preliminary Hearing was arranged to determine whether ethical veganism could qualify as a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 210. The Employment Tribunal having considered the detailed submissions of Mr Casamitjana found that ethical veganism satisfied the necessary conditions of being an “important” and “worthy” of respect in a democratic society and concluded that ethical veganism did constitute a philosophical belief.
Each case will have to still be considered on its own facts. Vegans who are simply following a dietary programme may not qualify for the same protection as it may not impact their lifestyle in a substantial way. So it follows that this decision does not mean every Equal Opportunities policy has to be changed to expressly include ‘veganism’ However it is worth considering whether there is the facility for a worker to make known their dietary requirements in any work function where catering is provided.