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Is ethical veganism a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010?

06 January 2020

Yes, held an employment tribunal giving ethical vegans protection from discrimination.

The case was brought by Mr Casamitjana who claims he was dismissed by his employer the League Against Cruel Sports because of his ethical veganism. His employer disagrees and says he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Religion or belief is one of nine protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010. Belief is defined as any religious or philosophical belief.

    Jacqueline McCluskey

  Jacqueline McCluskey

Previous case law also provides guidance. For a philosophical belief to gain protection it must:

  • Be genuinely held and not a mere opinion or viewpoint;
  • Be a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • Attain a certain level of seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society;
  • Be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others; and
  • Have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

The case presented by Mr Casamitjana argued that ethical veganism in principle, and Mr Casamitjana’s particular interpretations of it, met the above tests.

The employment tribunal decided that ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The employment tribunal is yet to decide whether Mr Casamitjana suffered discrimination on the basis of his belief. In other words, whether his dismissal or other treatment of him was discriminatory. That point will be decided at a separate substantive hearing likely later this year.

All vegans eat a plant-based diet. Ethical vegans try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation. Mr Casamitjana explained that he avoids buying clothing made from wool or leather or using toiletries from companies that carry out animal testing. His beliefs affect much of his everyday life. For example, he will walk rather than take a bus to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds. He spends a considerable amount of time on vegan outreach work promoting veganism to non-vegans. He uses a bank card or coins rather than new banknotes which are manufactured using animal products.

Mr Casamitjana says he was dismissed by the League Against Cruel Sports after disclosing it invested its pension funds in firms involved in animal testing. He claims when he drew his employer’s attention to the pension fund investments, it did nothing so he informed colleagues and was dismissed as a result.

In October last year, we reported on the case of Connisbee v Crossley Farms Limited where the employment tribunal found that vegetarianism was not a philosophical belief.

Previously, the employment tribunal has held that an anti-fox hunting belief can amount to a philosophical belief. Successful cases will, however, always be fact dependent. For example, not all opponents of fox hunting will necessarily have a belief which is genuinely held and practised by the individual as opposed to an opinion or viewpoint.

The employment appeal tribunal (whose decisions are binding on the employment tribunal) has also held previously that environmentalism and belief in climate change is a philosophical belief.

Employers should be clear about the reason for dismissal or other treatment of their employees. In the case of dismissal, employers should ensure that the reason is one of the five potentially fair reasons set out in legislation. Employers should also ensure that any dismissal or other treatment is not less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic (in this case a philosophical belief). The separate substantive hearing later in the year on this case will focus on these tests.


Jacqueline McCluskey, Partner & Accredited Specialist in Employment Law
E: T: 0131 222 2939 


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