21st January 2021
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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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.
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