Is vegetarianism a religion or philosophical belief?
The recent case brought to Employment Tribunal of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd has called into question whether vegetarianism can be considered as grounds of religion and belief.
The case involved Mr Conisbee’s claim that he had been discriminated against and dismissed on the grounds of religion and belief, with a claim for notice pay. As he had only been working as a waiter/barman at Crossley Farm for four months, he could not bring a claim of ordinary unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996. The preliminary hearing determined whether or not his vegetarianism could be defined as being a philosophical belief (and therefore a ‘protected characteristic’) under the Equality Act 2010.
The Employment Tribunal accepted that although Mr Conisbee had a genuine belief in vegetarianism, they held that vegetarianism is not capable of amounting to a philosophical belief as required under the Equality Act 2010. The Act states that:
- The belief must be genuinely held and not a mere opinion or viewpoint on the present state of information available;
- The belief must be a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- The belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and be worth of respect in a democratic society; and
- The belief must be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Although it may seem that vegetarianism meets all these criteria, the case fell down on one important point, and one that might distinguish it from veganism. The tribunal considered that people who are vegetarians for a variety of reasons whereas vegans all hold the same belief that animals should not be killed for consumption or any other purpose, and that this is a firmly held belief. It is possible that the door may have been left ajar for the next tribunal to find in favour of vegans being protected on grounds of religion and belief.
The ramifications of these hearings, potentially defining whether vegetarianism or veganism can be considered philosophical beliefs and so protected from discrimination, could have a big impact in the workplace. The number of vegetarians and vegans are rising with the number of vegans quadrupling between 2012 and 2017. Together with vegetarians, they are expected to make up a quarter of British people.
Watch this space for an update.
Author: Deborah Francis, Solicitor, Employment Team