Employment law and religious and philosophical beliefs

You may question what on earth employment law has got to do with religious and philosophical beliefs, but an Employment Tribunal is considering whether veganism should be classed as a philosophical or religious belief. “Why?” you may ask. Top London employment law solicitors say that the Employment Tribunal case is important as the claimant, Jordi Casamitjana, will increase the scope of the legal protection from discrimination if ethical veganism is classed by the Employment Tribunal as a philosophical belief that should be protected under the Equality Act 2010.

The vegan case

Mr Casamitjana is arguing that ethical veganism has a legal status in law as a philosophical belief. It is reported that this goal is his primary aim in bringing his Employment Tribunal case. If he succeeds in persuading the tribunal that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief then the Employment Tribunal will hold a second hearing to determine whether or not Mr Casamitjana was discriminated against by his employer as a result of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.

Is there any significance in the reference to ethical veganism as opposed to plain veganism? The best London employment law solicitors believe that there may be as “plain” veganism may be classed a dietary choice, like vegetarianism, but ethical veganism is all about your way of life and philosophy and relationship towards animals and the environment. As a result, the tribunal might find that ethical veganism is a philosophy whereas veganism in its simplest form is a dietary choice.   

Mr Casamitjana’s employer, the League against Cruel Sports, dismissed Mr Casamitjana for gross misconduct and it is reported that their case is that whether or not ethical veganism is classed as a philosophical belief it was not the reason behind Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal from his employment with the charity.   

To the best London employment law solicitors the other interesting feature of Mr Casamitjana’s case is that his legal fees are reportedly being met though crowd funding, a development in the use of social media and the reporting on Employment Tribunal potential claims to gain support for cases that might not otherwise reach an Employment Tribunal or court due to lack of funding.

The Equality Act

Many may question how veganism, or even ethical veganism, can come under the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act says it is illegal to discriminate against someone who has a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics are:

• Age;

• Disability;

• Sex and sexual orientation;

• Gender reassignment;

• Marriage or civil partnership;

• Pregnancy or maternity;

• Race;

• Religious beliefs.

If a person has a protected characteristic they are not only protected at their place of employment, but also from discrimination in other areas, such as education or housing. However, the discrimination has to be related to the protected characteristic so if the employment dismissal or education decision was not related to the protected characteristic it is not classed as discrimination under the Equality Act. However, depending on the individual case, there may be other legal remedies available. That is why it pays to get expert legal advice from a top London employment law solicitor before a claim is brought or defended by an employer.

What is a religious or philosophical belief under the Equality Act?  

The best London employment law solicitors advise that to be considered as a religious or philosophical belief, the faith or belief must be:

• A belief or tenet of faith as opposed to simply a viewpoint or opinion; and 

• Genuinely held; and 

• A matter of substantial impact to human life and behaviour; and 

• Be of sufficient seriousness and importance; and 

• Not conflict with the rights of others; and 

• Be compatible with human dignity.

In earlier Employment Tribunal cases the tribunal has held that if a philosophical belief is found to be a protected characteristic then it carries as much importance and weight as any other protected characteristic, for example age or race.

What is difficult, for both employer and employee, is that what constitutes a religious or philosophical belief is not clear cut and that case law is still developing to look at specific matters that may constitute a protected characteristic as a religious or philosophical belief. For example, back in 2015, an Employment Tribunal held that political beliefs could have the same level of protection as a religious belief or other type of protected characteristic. The 2015 case involved a worker who was described as holding strong left wing democratic socialism views. The potential wide classification of what constitutes a religious or philosophical belief can be difficult for employers as they may not know that a particular employee has a strongly held view on politics or a religious stand point and the employment law issues can arise from the individual employee’s interactions with other employees rather than as a result of contact with a line manager or the human resources department.

Managing religious and philosophical belief in the workplace     

Lots of people may think that there is no place for politics in the workplace but with previous employment tribunals finding that a belief in catastrophic climate change or socialism is a philosophical belief then clearly politics and beliefs cannot be left at the work place door. It is then a question of how employers should manage religious and philosophical belief in the workplace to ensure that all workers with protected characteristics under the Equality Act get the same degree of protection from discrimination and harassment under the Equality Act as someone with an obvious protected characteristic. 

The best London employment law solicitors have noticed a change in approach towards philosophical beliefs in recent months with the reported case of a Waitrose employee who left his employment as a result of his inappropriate comments about vegans and Mr Casamitjana’s case against his employee, the League against Cruel Sports. Many employers will rightly worry that if a leading animal charity can find itself facing a discrimination claim relating to ethical veganism then they too are vulnerable to discrimination claims based upon protected characteristics of religious and philosophical belief.  

What can employers do about this? Top London employment law solicitors advise that employers should carefully consider:

• Their recruitment process; and 

• Their induction process for new employees; and 

• Their written policies and mission statement for the company; and 

• Review policies and procedures on a regular basis; and 

• Ensure that line managers and the human resources department are kept up to date with case law on religious and philosophical beliefs.

 

For both employers and employees the law on discrimination at work is complex and failure to manage staff and allegations of discrimination and harassment can result in employment law claims, adverse publicity and with the added side effects of demotivation and high staff turnover in the workforce. The best London employment law solicitors therefore recommend that rigorous policies are put in place by employers with ongoing monitoring and training to help identify all forms of protected characteristics under the Equality Act in order to minimise the potential for employees to bring discrimination claims.   

OTS Solicitors are specialist in employment law matters, advising both employers and employees and providing bespoke employment law advice tailored to the company or individual’s circumstances. For more information on employment law relating to discrimination and protected characteristics in the workplace or on any aspect of employment law please call us on 0203 959 9123 to arrange an appointment to speak to one of our experienced London employment solicitors.

 

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