In contrast to a previous employment tribunal decision that vegetarianism is not a protected belief, an employment tribunal has ruled in a recent preliminary hearing that the more rigorous belief of “ethical veganism” amounts to a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. "Religion or belief" is one of nine "protected characteristics" covered by the Equality Act 2010.

In this case, the Claimant was purportedly dismissed for gross misconduct, but the Claimant asserts he was dismissed due to his objections raised with management and colleagues that his employer’s pension scheme invested in companies involved with animal testing, which was contrary to his vegan beliefs in avoiding cruelty to animals and this amounted to discrimination. 

The Claimant successfully argued that his “Ethical Veganism” was no different to the way those who practice a religion treat the rules which govern their religion. Examples of this involved the Claimant’s avoidance of sitting in leather seats, or even walking in preference to taking public transport to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds. 

This was the first of a two part employment tribunal. Now the question of ethical veganism has been determined by the judge, the litigation will move on to determine the lawfulness of the Claimant's dismissal.

This ruling does not mean that all vegan beliefs are protected by law and, furthermore, employment tribunal decisions are not binding on other employment tribunals, but the Claimant’s particular beliefs based on the criteria established by caselaw were sufficiently rigorous and all-encompassing, such that the tribunal judge found these  together amounted to a protected  philosophical belief.

Requiring an employee holding vegan beliefs (that meet the criteria of a protected belief) to engage in certain practices in the workplace, such as to sit in a leather chair, rather than a synthetic alternative, or requiring an employee to purchase cow’s milk, may constitute indirect philosophical belief discrimination contrary to the Equality Act 2010, unless such a requirement can be justified by the employer. 

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