A philosophical belief might be a protected characteristic if it:
- Is genuinely held and isn’t just a viewpoint or an opinion;
- Relates to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- Attains a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and be worthy of respect in a democratic society;
- Is compatible with human dignity and not conflict with other people’s fundamental rights.
An employment tribunal has decided that an individual’s belief in vegetarianism is not protected by the Equality Act 2010. In Conisbee v Crossley Farms, the tribunal said that vegetarianism was an opinion or viewpoint rather than a protected belief. The tribunal did not believe that vegetarianism was a weighty belief about a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. Rather it was a lifestyle choice. A belief that animals shouldn’t be killed for food was an admirable sentiment but did not relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. In relation to requirement that the belief attain a certain level of cogency, cohesion and importance, the tribunal noted the many different reasons for people being vegetarian (lifestyle, health, diet, concerns about methods of animal rearing for food, personal taste). This could be contrasted with veganism where the arguments are largely the same, ‘a clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control’.
An employment tribunal will decide this month whether ethical veganism is capable of being protected as a philosophical belief. The answer is almost certainly yes. However, looking at the reasoning of the employment tribunal in this case, the line between protectable belief and admirable opinion is somewhat blurred. I suspect we have not heard the last on this subject, especially if veganism is found to be protected. Employment tribunal decisions are not binding on other tribunals, so it is not uncommon for different tribunals to reach different decisions in similar cases.