Vegans are people too: Equality Act 2010 and vegan rights at work
An employment law firm, Crossland, conducted a survey in 2019 and found that almost three-quarters of UK employers (74%) did not realise that under the Equality Act 2010, ‘philosophical beliefs’ such as veganism are a protected characteristic in employment law. Since then, a landmark ruling has confirmed this stance, whereby Judge Robin Postle stated that they were “satisfied overwhelmingly that ethical veganism does constitute a philosophical belief”.
Jordi Casamitjana claims ‘victory for animal protection’
Vegan zoologist, ethical vegan, and animal rights campaigner Jordi Casamitjana, sued his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, for unfair dismissal. He claimed he was fired for revealing that the charity’s pension fund invested in companies that tested on animals. He argued that this violated his vegan beliefs and that he was discriminated against because of them. The charity denied this and said he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
In January 2020, the tribunal ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief protected by the Equality Act 2010. This landmark ruling recognised veganism as a protected characteristic in British workplaces. The tribunal has not yet decided on Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal, which will be determined later.
Impact of case
The result confirms that employers and service providers have a legal obligation to respect and accommodate the needs of vegans. However, these rights are not absolute and may be limited by other factors, such as health and safety, cost, or the rights and freedoms of others. Therefore, vegans may need to demonstrate their conviction and sincerity on a case-by-case basis.
Under UK equality law, the following areas are generally prohibited:
• Unfair treatment for being vegan.
• Treatment that puts you at an unfair disadvantage because you are vegan.
• Harassment for being vegan.
• Victimisation because you are vegan and have raised an issue relating to your rights under equality law.
The Vegan Society has more information on UK and international equality law.
How can employers ensure they treat vegans with respect?
Employers are legally obligated to treat vegans with respect and follow the law, which protects vegans from discrimination, harassment and victimisation under the Equality Act 2010. Here are some steps that employers can take to ensure they comply with the law and support vegan employees:
• Foster a positive and inclusive workplace culture that values and respects vegan beliefs and choices.
• Educate staff on the Equality Act 2010 and the organisation’s Equality and Diversity policy.
• Ensure employees feel heard and supported if they have a specific need or complaint, and act promptly and appropriately.
• Utilise vegan knowledge and expertise within the organisation and seek advice from vegan employees or external organisations when needed
• Always ensure vegan food options in the workplace canteen, catering services, vending machines, and social events.
• Allow vegan alternatives for uniforms or dress codes, such as synthetic or plant-based fabrics instead of animal-derived ones.
• Not expect vegans to perform tasks that clash with their beliefs, such as handling animal products or testing on animals, unless there is a valid and proportionate reason to do so.
• Recognise and celebrate vegan achievements and contributions, such as Veganuary, World Vegan Day, or Vegan Awards.
The Vegan Society has comprehensive information on this topic.
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How can employees assert their rights?
As an employee, you have the right to be treated with respect and dignity by your employer and colleagues and not to be discriminated against, harassed or victimised because of your veganism. If you feel that your employer is not adhering to this, here are some steps you can take:
• Speak up for yourself and explain your vegan beliefs and needs to your employer or manager. You can use The Vegan Society’s resources and guidance to help you communicate effectively and confidently.
• Request reasonable adjustments or accommodations for your veganism, such as vegan food options, clothing alternatives, or exemptions from tasks that conflict with your beliefs.
• If you have a specific complaint or grievance, follow your employer’s internal procedures and policies to raise it formally. Contact The Vegan Society’s advocacy service for advice and support.
• If you are dissatisfied with the outcome of your complaint or grievance or face further unfair treatment or victimisation, you may consider taking legal action against your employer under the Equality Act 2010. You should seek legal advice before doing so, as this can be complex and costly.
• Go Vegan World has sample template letters to help you assert your rights.
Veganism is more than just a diet - it is a philosophical belief that animals have rights and should not be exploited or harmed by humans. Veganism is a protected belief in the UK, and in the words of Judge Robin Postle, ethical veganism is "important and worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
Other ways people are advocating for rights: have you heard of these unique UK animal rights activism.