23rd September 2019

Employment Tribunal’s approach to Vegetarianism

A recent case in the Employment Tribunal looked at whether vegetarianism was a belief for purposes of Equality Act 2010.

Under the Equality Act (the Act) religion or belief is a protected characteristic and this means that employers must not discriminate against a job applicant or employee on the basis of that belief or religion. It is often difficult for the Tribunal to assess whether a “belief” is covered under the Equality Act, so what do they look for?

Under the Act, a belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief. The EHRC Code gives some examples and further guidance.

The EAT’s guidance in previous case law also highlights those factors which are relevant:

  • The belief must be genuinely held
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • It must attain 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
  • It must “have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief”
  • It need not be shared by others

In the recent case, Mr Conisbee alleged discrimination on the ground of religion or belief with his belief being vegetarianism. The Tribunal held that this belief did not qualify for protection under the Act. Although Mr Connisbee’s vegetarian belief was genuinely held and was worthy of respect in a democratic society, the Tribunal found:

  • It did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour: vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour, the ET found it is a life style choice and in Mr Connisbee’s view believing that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food.
  • It did not attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance: the reasons for being a vegetarian differ greatly from lifestyle and health, to concerns about animal welfare. Interestingly, although not the main part of the reasoning, the Tribunal contrasted veganism, stating that the reasons for being a vegan appear to be largely the same and that there was therefore a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief. However, each case must be heard on its own facts.
  • It did not have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.

Those managers on the front line would be wise to approach the issue of religion and belief with caution and sensitivity bearing in mind the variety of beliefs that can be held. A policy and culture of treating staff equally and with respect will help to avoid discrimination of any kind arising in the workplace. However, if a query or issue arises and you are unsure how to approach it, it is advisable to seek advice.