As we entered the new year there was extensive press coverage of a decision by the Employment Tribunal that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief. The decision is important as finding that a belief amounts to a philosophical belief gives the believer the protections against discrimination or harassment granted by the Equality Act and the believer is protected from suffering unfavourable treatment or detriment because they hold that belief.
The press have described the decision as a landmark legal decision because it grants ethical vegans similar protections to people holding religious beliefs.
In this case Jordi Casamitjana was dismissed by his employer, the League Against Cruel Sports. His former employer says he was fairly dismissed because of gross misconduct, Mr Casamitjana says he was sacked because he disclosed to colleagues that his employer had invested pension monies in firms involved in animal testing, and that the disclosure was made because of his belief in ethical veganism. The judgment followed a preliminary hearing to determine whether Mr Casamitjana’s beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief. The final hearing of whether the dismissal was fair or unfair will take place at a later date.
But was the finding actually a landmark legal decision?
Yes and no. The decision was made by the Employment Tribunal, a first tier court whose decision is not binding on other courts. It is questionable if any decision from a first tier court can be a landmark decision until it is approved by a decision from the higher court, the Employment Appeal Tribunal. As matters stand Employment Tribunal judges are not bound by this case and are free to come to their own decision about whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, but this case will be very persuasive even if it is not binding.
Unfortunately, at least for us lawyers, the decision is not likely to be appealed to the higher court because the employer did not dispute that ethical veganism was a philosophical belief, but say that Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal was not connected with his beliefs.
Veganism is experiencing a huge surge in popularity. If an employee adopts a vegan lifestyle because of deeply held beliefs about climate change or animal welfare then this could well amount to a philosophical belief which will be protected from discrimination or harassment and it would be sensible for employers to amend their policies and procedures accordingly.