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Is vegetarianism a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010?

04 October 2019

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 cogency, 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.

    Currie __Catherine _crop

  Laura Salmond, Partner

    Katie Hendry

 Katie Hendry
Trainee Solicitor

In the recent case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd, the tribunal considered whether vegetarianism is a protected philosophical belief.

Mr Conisbee worked as a waiter at a hotel owned by Crossley Farms. He brought a claim of discrimination alleging that other members of staff had ridiculed him because he was vegetarian. He claimed, among other things, that staff had given him food containing meat products without his knowledge.

Mr Conisbee argued that his vegetarianism is a philosophical belief as it is a genuine decision to preserve the life of animals, around 20% of the world’s population is vegetarian which is sufficiently cogent and worthy of respect, and no one can sensibly argue that vegetarianism is incompatible with human dignity.

The employer did not dispute that Mr Conisbee was vegetarian, but argued that not all vegetarians hold the same beliefs (for example, some are vegetarian for dietary reasons and others religious reasons) and that protecting the life of animals is not an aspect of human life and behaviour.

The tribunal accepted that Mr Conisbee had a genuine belief in vegetarianism and animal welfare but rejected the claim, concluding that this was a “lifestyle choice” and an opinion based on real or perceived logic is not enough.

Whilst this first instance decision is not binding on other tribunals, it provides an interesting example of how a tribunal may approach belief claims based on vegetarianism. The judge hinted, however, that veganism may well be protected as it encompasses environmental concerns as well as animal welfare. In December last year, a zoologist brought a claim against the League Against Cruel Sports alleging discrimination on the basis of his ethical veganism. This case is due to be heard by the tribunal this month so watch this space…

Contact the BTO employment team if you would like to discuss any aspect of this blog.


Laura Salmond, Partner T: 0141 221 8012

Katie Hendry, Trainee Solicitor T: 0141 221 8012


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