Is vegetarianism a belief protected by the Equality Act 2010?
Following on from a previous article over whether ethical veganism could constitute a belief protected by the Equality Act, the Norwich Employment Tribunal has recently considered a case on whether vegetarianism could constitute a protected belief – Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others.
Under the Equality Act 2010 an individual’s religious and philosophical beliefs are a protected characteristic and therefore, poor or less favourable treatment in the workplace, as a result, could lead to claims of discrimination.
A whole host of different topics have been determined to constitute philosophical beliefs including climate change, the BBC as a public broadcaster and that lying in any circumstance is wrong. As it is not possible to apply one definition to what a belief actually is the following tests are used:
- The belief must be genuinely held.
- It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint.
- It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
- It must have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
- It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others – good examples can be offensive beliefs such as those held by neo-Nazis not being protected beliefs.
- It must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
- But it should be noted that the belief does not need to be shared by others.
The Norwich Employment Tribunal did not agree with Mr Conisbee that vegetarianism was a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010. The Employment Tribunal did find Mr Conisbee’s belief was genuinely held and was worthy of respect in a democratic society but his belief did not:
- Concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. The Employment Tribunal determined that Mr Conisbee’s vegetarianism was ultimately a lifestyle choice based on a view that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food. The Employment Tribunal did not find that such belief concerned human life and behaviour.
- The Employment Tribunal determined that people are vegetarians for a whole host of reasons – diet, health, lifestyle, concern over animal welfare and personal taste. Due to this it was not felt that there was the necessary level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance. A contrast was made with veganism where the Employment Tribunal confirmed that the reasons for being vegan appear to be largely the same and there is more of a clear cohesion and consistency in vegan belief.
- Vegetarianism did not have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.
The decision was made by the Norwich Employment Tribunal and therefore has no binding effect on other Employment Tribunals but it does provide an insight into how employment judges view vegetarianism and also how they approach the question over what constitutes a protected belief.
This case provides a timely reminder that someone’s belief structure and lifestyle choices can be protected under the Equality Act 2010. Employers are reminded to always be respectful and tread carefully with employees’ beliefs, whatever they may be.