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News added on 20.05.2019

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Discrimination

Are vegans protected from discrimination?

A new survey by a law firm has revealed that nearly half of vegans felt discriminated against by their employer. Is veganism a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and what steps can you take to accommodate any vegan employees?

The research by Crossland Employment Solicitors indicated that 45% of the 1,000 vegan employees surveyed felt discriminated against, while 31% said they felt harassed at work or unfairly treated due to their veganism. Of the 1,000 employers also surveyed, 94% were of the opinion that vegans were wrong to push their beliefs onto others in the workplace, while 13% thought that such behaviour could be distracting to other employees. In addition, while 63% of employers thought their vegan employees were genuine in wanting to address concerns around animal welfare or the environment, 24% believed employees who became vegan had done so because it was fashionable or to lose weight or look good.

Veganism isn’t a protected characteristic in its own right under the Equality Act 2010. However, one of the protected characteristics is religion or belief, and this includes any “philosophical belief”. To be a protected philosophical belief, previous case law has held that it must:

  • be genuinely held (but need not be shared by others)
  • be a belief, and not just an opinion based on the present state of information available
  • be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and have similar status or cogency to a religious belief, and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity.

It’s therefore likely that veganism is covered by the Act if the particular vegan employee has a genuinely held belief, i.e. they are a committed vegan and their life is significantly driven by vegan principles, and their belief meets the other criteria set out above, and they don’t just have an opinion or viewpoint on veganism or a passing interest in it. Case law has already found that belief in man-made climate change is a philosophical belief and an employment tribunal case due to be heard later this year will consider whether veganism falls into the same category.

If you do have vegan employees, steps you can take to accommodate their requirements at work include:

  • providing vegan catering options, such as making vegan food available in a work canteen and at catered work-related events or installing a vegan-only fridge for staff to store their own food
  • offering vegan office equipment, such as leather-free chairs
  • providing wool-free uniforms and toiletries, e.g. hand soaps, that aren’t tested on animals
  • ensuring that other employees know not to engage in any banter surrounding an employee’s belief in veganism or commitment to vegan living - this can be covered in your equality and diversity training
  • adding “vegan” to your list of denominations on equality monitoring forms so that vegans have the choice to participate in the collection of demographic data.

It’s currently unclear whether veganism may be regarded as a philosophical belief and so protected by the Equality Act 2010, but an employment tribunal case will consider this point later in 2019. However, where an employee is a committed vegan and their life is significantly driven by vegan principles, the greater the chance that they will be protected by the Act. To accommodate any vegan employees, consider providing vegan catering options, vegan office equipment, wool-free uniforms and toiletries that aren’t tested on animals. Ensure also that your equality and diversity training sets out what amounts to inappropriate banter and harassment.

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