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There are nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation; it’s unlawful to discriminate against them. In the workplace this means care must be taken with recruitment, terms and conditions, pay and benefits, promotions and training, dismissal and redundancy.

The Employment Tribunal recently looked at ethical veganism. Is it philosophical belief deserving protected status? Environmental concerns are soaring up the agenda: veganism is increasing because of concern for animal welfare and the environment; workers are concerned about their employer’s carbon footprint, and whether their pensions are invested ethically.

Mr Casamitjana said he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports because he’s an ethical vegan; they said it was his gross misconduct. He’d discovered his workplace pension was invested in firms involved in animal testing. He spoke to his employer, but they took no action, so he emailed his colleagues, and was dismissed.

The Employment Tribunal’s task was to investigate whether the assertion of ethical veganism as a belief was in good faith – but not to investigate or comment on its validity. Why? Because everyone is entitled to hold whatever belief they wish as long as it is consistent with basic standards of human dignity or integrity.

In deciding this case, the Employment Tribunal read 1,239 pages of evidence as to how ethical veganism is defined, its history and how it impacts on Mr Casamitjana’s life. He’s a zoologist dedicated to helping animals in need, and has been vegan for twenty years.

Mr Casamitjana’s ethical veganism derives from Jainism, the concept ‘Ahimsa’, which means to cause no injury and to do no harm. He follows these principles to the letter: he ‘does no harm’ to sentient life when it comes to his diet, clothes, hobbies, occupation etc.

In his daily life he ensures his consumption contributes as little as possible to suffering of sentient beings: he contacts food and clothing manufacturers to ensure their products are genuinely vegan. He walks – rather than use transport – to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds. He uses coins or credit cards rather than banknotes – because they’re not animal product free.

For a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act it must be:

The Employment Tribunal found that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief which qualifies as a protected belief within the meaning of Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.

What does this mean for the workplace?

The employer in this case maintains Mr Casamitjana’s beliefs were irrelevant to the dismissal. In the dismissal letter the employer said: ‘I consider the email you sent to staff biased because of your ethical principles and could influence them to change their pension arrangement.’ Was Mr Casamitjana’s criticism of his employer’s investment choices, and his communication of his concerns to his colleagues, gross misconduct? The hearing to decide whether the dismissal was fair commences on 24 February.

This information does not provide a full statement of the law and you are advised to take legal advice before taking any action based on the information contained in this article.

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