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A vegetarian belief

Christian Meredith explores whether vegetarianism can qualify as a ‘philosophical’ belief for the purposes of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Vegetarianism is on the rise. A meat free way of life has been gaining popularity over recent years. It is estimated that the vegetarian population of the UK has risen from 2% in 2000 to 14% in 2018. Vegetarianism is discussed and reported in the media on a growing basis and has now appeared in the employment tribunal.  Although we do not normally report on first instance tribunal cases – this is a particularly interesting case and gives an indication of what may or may not be considered a philosophical belief.

A ‘philosophical belief’ is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Vegetarianism is a belief shared by 20% of the world’s population but would the tribunal determine vegetarianism is a philosophical belief under the legislation?

This case concerned Mr Conisbee who brought a claim against his employer, Crossley Farms, for discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief related to treatment he believed he suffered because he was vegetarian.  The tribunal acknowledged that he had a genuine belief in vegetarianism and in the notion that it is immoral to eat animals and subject them and the environment to cruelty and ultimately slaughter.  However it did not consider that this belief was a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

The beliefs of the claimant satisfied the genuine and substantial aspect of the legal test of what constitutes a philosophical belief. However the tribunal decided vegetarianism did not satisfy the requirement of cogency and cohesion because the reason for being a vegetarian differs amongst those with that belief.  The judge stated that veganism would most likely be a protected belief but not vegetarianism stating, “you can see a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, which appears contrary to vegetarianism”. The claim was therefore rejected by the tribunal.

This is somewhat surprising as the scope of what makes a ‘belief’ is wide, as demonstrated by the tribunal in the past. In a similar case on climate change, the tribunal found that man-made disruption to the climate and the belief that humans should aim to reduce the damage they cause was capable of being a protected belief. It will be interesting to see if veganism will indeed qualify for protection in an upcoming case to be heard at the EAT. We will keep you posted with any updates.