January is often considered a time for new focus, new challenges or even New Year’s resolutions.  But what about Veganuary; the movement which encourages people to try being vegan during the month of January?  The founders say that “more than half a million people in 178 countries” have tried it.  What’s more, with increasing global scientific recognition that we’re in a state of climate emergency, adopting a permanent vegan diet is fast on the increase.  It is generally believed that following a vegan or plant-based diet it will help our planet by reducing methane as well as other greenhouse cases in our environment, since it is livestock emissions that contribute significantly to our greenhouse gases.

You may well wonder what this all has to do with your world of work, but at the beginning of 2020, it was reported that an employment tribunal has ruled that “ethical veganism” is considered to be a “philosophical belief”.

So, what do we mean by “Philosophical belief”? and what does it mean for you if you’re a Vegan?

You can trust HR Solver to understand the complexities of the ever-changing world of employment law and keep you up to date at the end of your finger-tips and in a way that you can clearly understand.

Okay, let’s break this down, starting with “ethical veganism” – you’re eating a plant-based diet meaning you’ve stopped eating animal products, that’s vegan right…?  No, it’s more than that.  Ethical vegans, in addition to their diets, avoid coming in to contact with items that come from any form of animal exploitation.  For example, not using products that are tested on animals and not wearing leather or wool etc.

This leads us nicely in to explaining more about what is meant by “belief”

Its importance is within the context of a piece of employment legislation call The Equality Act 2010.  This piece of law makes it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of religion, belief, or a lack of religion or belief.

Now, in order for something to be considered a belief in this context, there are a number of ‘tests’ the belief must meet, it must:

  • be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint
  • be genuinely held
  • concern a substantial and “weighty” aspect of human life and behaviour
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society

Additionally, the judge in the vegan tribunal case added that it:

  • must not be incompatible with human dignity; and
  • must not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

In summary, should you find yourself in a position at work where you believe you are being discriminated against because you’re a vegan, it’s against the law.

Typical examples of discrimination include dismissing a member of staff because they are a vegan (as was claimed in the tribunal case we have referred to); or refusing to hire someone because of their belief (veganism).  Sometimes the discrimination isn’t as easy to spot because perhaps there’s been a policy or practice rolled out at work that is harder for you as a vegan to adhere to, a good example to help you understand what we mean here is:

Freddie is a vegan; she has been for the last 12 years.  To Freddie being vegan is a lifestyle choice, it affects many of the everyday decisions she makes, not just about what she eats but what clothes and shoes she wears.  She practices veganism robustly, and in addition to her day to day activities, she also avoids all contact with any organisation that mistreats animals.  This extends to Freddie ensuring that her pension is invested in funds that do not test on, or otherwise mistreat, animals or make money from any such behaviour.  Freddie is employed as a Sales Executive.  All Sales are required to visit their clients once a quarter to improve the customer service the clients receive.  The client visits are linked to their bonus structure, as such, if a Sales Executive does not make their quarterly client visits, they will not achieve their bonus that quarter.  Freddie is given a new client – a haulage company who specialises in the transportation of animals from farm to slaughterhouse.  Freddie has told her employer that she does not want to visit this new client, due to her beliefs as a vegan.  Freddie does not get her bonus.

In this example, because ethical veganism is a belief, the withholding of Freddie’s, bonus because she did not visit her client in the required quarter/s, could amount to indirect discrimination.

We hope this example helps you to understand indirect discriminations against ethical vegans.

As well as ethical vegans being protected.  Others who a not vegans should also be aware that “ethical veganism” is now a protected characteristic.  You should already know that it’s not good to get involved in workplace banter or teasing (or anything worse), but with this change, you could find yourself in serious trouble, if you are involved in teasing or banter about or directed at a vegan!

If you find yourself in trouble at work or consider yourself to being discriminated against on the basis of your beliefs, contact the HR Solver experts today where our advisors can chat you through your rights and options.

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