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Record numbers of people signed up to take part in the Veganuary challenge – a month without eating any animal products, including meat, fish, eggs and diary for the whole of January.

   

500,000 people are expected to have taken part in 2021. Whilst for some this may be a health kick for January or a fun challenge to attempt during lockdown boredom, for others veganism is very much a way of life. For many vegans, it is not just a dietary preference, but a part of their ethical beliefs and lifestyle. Impacting on many areas of their life including the products they use, where they shop, how they travel and what they invest in.

   

For some, their beliefs may need to be taken into consideration whilst in the workplace and employers should get up to speed in order to support their employees, harbour an inclusive and diverse workforce as well as reduce their risk of a discrimination claim.

   

Are Vegans Protected by Employment Law?

 

The answer to this is not as clear as many employers would hope. ‘Veganism’ is not listed as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010. However, ‘religion and belief’ is listed as a protected characteristic which can create room for individual interpretation.

   

Belief can include both religious and philosophical beliefs. Whether or not veganism falls into this category is likely to depend on the individual circumstances.

   

For example, someone who is taking part in Veganuary as a trend or challenge is unlikely to hold deep beliefs or have a passionate view about veganism. However, someone who is a devout vegan and has followed vegan practices for a number of years, i.e. an ethical vegan, may well form part of this protected characteristic meaning that employers should protect them from direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of their beliefs.

   

Veganism is relatively new to the UK, but it is rapidly growing. Figures suggest there are as many as 2.2 million vegans in the UK, compared to just 150,000 in 2014. Many people are opting to switch to a plant-based diet or lifestyle for the environmental and climate change benefits, which suggests that veganism may become more of a belief or lifestyle than a dietary requirement.

   

Employers should take note of this trend, as they may well find that their workforce is made up of several vegans in the coming years. Failure to keep up with trends is no defence when it comes to employers providing appropriate protection for employees.

   

What Can Employers do to Prevent Discrimination?

 

Employers should have a desire to encourage a diverse and inclusive workplace to benefit from the experience and knowledge of people from varied backgrounds and cultures. They should also wish for all their employees to feel safe and supported at work.

   

Some things to consider for a vegan-friendly workplace:

   
  • Consider food options when holding meetings, parties, or events.
  • Give thought to vegan alternatives when purchasing gifts or incentives for staff.
  • Consider food preparation and storage in the office. Do you have a shared microwave and fridge for example? There may be some steps you can take to ensure employees feel comfortable about bringing food into the workplace.
  • If your workplace involves the handling of animal products, consider what steps can be taken.
  • Audit your workplace for any issues that may arise on a vegan’s radar. This could include the use of animal products such as leather chairs for example.
  • Think about the suppliers you use and any other third parties and their ethical policies.
  • Review your policies, handbooks and procedures – make sure everything is up to date.
  • Include an equality and diversity policy in your suite of HR documents and regularly review.
  • Train your staff and/or management teams to identify discrimination and understand the protected characteristics.
  • Discipline staff who behave inappropriately.
  • Take employee grievances around veganism and discrimination seriously and act.
  • Create an open workplace culture where staff feel comfortable raising concerns or making suggestions that will be taken on board.
 

woman eating vegan lunch at work is veganism a protected characteristic from discrimination

Case Update on Veganism

 

In March 2020, long-standing ethical vegan Jordi Casamitjana challenged his employer, The League Against Cruel Sports, for the way pension funds were invested and his subsequent dismissal from the company. This claim went to employment tribunal where the definition of philosophical belief of ethical veganism had to pass a series of tests. In his ruling Judge Robin Postle said he was “overwhelmingly” satisfied that ethical veganism constituted a philosophical belief and that those holding that belief should be protected against discrimination.

   

Whilst this ruling was described as a landmark legal case, it will not change employment law and each case would be scrutinised on an individual basis.

   

This case does, however, highlight the need for employers to continually review their practices and policies to be sure they are not discriminating against any of their employees because of their beliefs, not just religious beliefs.

   

Employment Law Advice

 

If you are looking for advice on a grievance or claim being made by an employee or would like employment law support on any other topics, then please do not hesitate to contact our Employment Law Team.

   

Call 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or speak to our online chat assistant at any time of day.

     

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The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.