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Should veganism be recognised as ‘philosophical belief’?

07 December 2018 #Discrimination

In March 2019, members of an Employment Tribunal will have to decide whether ‘veganism’ will receive the same protection against discrimination as Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Why? Because a former employee of the League Against Cruel Sports is claiming that he was discriminated against and dismissed due to his ‘ethical veganism’, a belief that should be recognised as a protected characteristic. 

Employees have the right not be discriminated against because of their religion or their religious or philosophical beliefs. Religion’s societal prominence and relevance might be seen as dwindling but in an information age where scientific understanding has led many to combat well-trodden, long-standing social and ethical practices (such as meat-eating) the law may need to adjust and protect that which is growing in relevance and prominence too. 

The threshold for protection under the ‘belief’ banner has been gauging much debate among tribunal members in the past 10 years. Notable instances include a proposed recognition of Jediism (yes, inspired by Luke Skywalker and his clan) and the belief in man-made climate change. Guidance from such case law has subsequently provided a non-exhaustive list of the criteria that will need to be addressed by the Tribunal members:

  • The belief must be genuinely held and more than an opinion.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior.
  • It must attain a certain level of importance and seriousness.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society.

Importantly the belief does not:

  • Need to be based on science.
  • Or shared by others.

The claimant here is arguing that his veganism goes beyond a decision to have a plant-based diet as he will also avoid wearing clothing made from animal hides or toiletries that are first tested on animals, therefore avoiding animal exploitation where possible. He claims it affects every aspect of his life.

Whilst the League Against Cruel Sports categorically denies that the claimant in question was discriminated against, instead positing that he was dismissed due to gross misconduct, a spokesperson for the League admitted “the discussion about veganism being a ‘philosophical belief’ is a thought provoking one which many of our staff will be interested in”.

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking professional and legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.


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Jacob Montague

Jacob Montague
Trainee Solicitor

E: jmontague@clarkslegal.com
T: 0118 960 4613
M: 079 0996 4585