Are vegetarianism and veganism protected Equality Act characteristics?!

Background

The Employment Tribunal has recently decided, following a pre-hearing review on the point, that vegetarianism does not qualify for protection, as a religion or belief, under the Equality Act 2010. It applied the Employment Appeal Tribunal case, of Grainger plc V Nicholson, when doing so.

It said that vegetarianism is not a weighty and substantial enough aspect of human life and behaviour and added that it could even be described more as a lifestyle choice. It also noted that it did not have sufficient cogency, seriousness or cohesion and those who follow this belief can have varying reasons for doing so. As such, it could not be said to be of a similar status to a religion.

Perhaps even more interestingly, the Tribunal did take the opportunity to contrast vegetarianism, with veganism, by noting that veganism did seem to have more of a quality and character of cohesion and seriousness. Whilst the Tribunal were not being asked to decide on the question of whether veganism might qualify for protection (and therefore such comments are not binding precedent), these observations will likely be instructive for others wishing to make the veganism argument. However, the Tribunal are already scheduled to formally decide this question, later in October, anyway (Casamitjana case).

Comment

While this outcome is not a surprise to those who have been following this area, this would seem to be the strongest indication yet that veganism will likely be found to satisfy the necessary test but that, with vegetarianism not qualifying, the threshold hasn’t necessarily changed. Interestingly, the Grainger case was one where climate change beliefs were felt to have sufficient seriousness and cogency to also potentially qualify for protection. However, whether “flat earth” believers might also have their beliefs protected, might depend on a Tribunal’s assessment of the available scientific evidence. This also being found to be a relevant factor in prior case law.

One other important point to note is that the Equality Act does not just cover discrimination within employment. It also extends to consumer services (e.g; shops/hotels/restaurants etc), leisure facilities, health services, transport and council/public services. Whilst public facilities, such as schools and hospitals, might already be catering for vegan diets this may soon become an effective requirement. In the private sector, if Highland cafes / restaurants / bars are to avoid any potential claims for indirect discrimination, then they will have to have a suitable justification for not catering for vegan diets (which may not necessarily be straightforward).

Mac & Mac Employment Team, Euan Smith and Graham Laughton, act for a number of local businesses and can be contacted on 01463 239393 or employment@macandmac.co.uk.

October 21, 2019