Is vegetarianism a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010?
This question was recently considered by an employment tribunal, with a case about veganism soon to follow!
Conisbee v Crossly Farm Ltd
Mr Connisbee is a vegetarian. He worked as a waiter at a hotel from April 2018 until he resigned on 30 August 2018. He left his role after he claimed he was ridiculed at work for not eating meat and “told off” for wearing an unironed shirt to work. He also claimed that he had been given snacks at work and later told that they contained meat, for example a croissant which had been basted in duck fat.
He argued that vegetarianism was a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. He brought a claim for discrimination.
In order for a philosophical belief to gain protection it must:
- Be genuinely held and not a mere opinion or viewpoint on the present state of information available.
- Be weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and be worth of respect in a democratic society.
- Be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of other.
The tribunal dismissed his claim on the basis that vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour, it is a ‘lifestyle choice.’ Furthermore, it did not attain a suitable level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. The ET said that reasons for being a vegetarian differ greatly from person to person. Vegetarians adopt the practice for many different reasons such as lifestyle, health, diet, concern about the way animals are reared for food and/or personal taste.
Whilst this decision is not binding, it provides an example of how tribunals are approaching religion or belief claims based on ideologies such as vegetarianism.
Interestingly the ET contrasted vegetarianism with veganism, implying that veganism may be a belief capable of protection. Later in the year a tribunal will be asked to decide whether veganism can be a “philosophical belief” and it will be interesting to see if it is treated differently to vegetarianism in this case.
If you have any queries in relation to discrimination or any other HR queries please contact our employment team on 01228 552600 or 01524 548494.