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Is vegetarianism a protected characteristic

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Is vegetarianism a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010?

This was the question that a recent Employment Tribunal had to answer when Mr Conisbee, a waiter at a hotel, brought a claim against his former employer, Crossley Farms Ltd claiming that he had been discriminated against on the grounds of religion or belief, one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. It is against the law to discriminate against someone because of a protected characteristic. The protected characteristics capable of protection are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. 

Mr Conisbee stated that he had faced workplace discrimination due to his belief in vegetarianism, which he contended amounted to a philosophical belief and afforded him protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. He claimed that his colleagues had ridiculed him and gave him snacks which he later discovered contained meat, contrary to his vegetarianism. His employer did not dispute that he was a vegetarian, however, it argued that a belief in vegetarianism does not amount to a philosophical belief.

The tribunal rejected Mr Conisbee’s claim on the basis that vegetarianism and the belief in it must have ‘similar status or cogency to religious belief’ which it stated vegetarianism did not. It stated that holding a belief which relates to an important aspect of human life of behaviour is ‘not enough in itself’ to prove it was the same as holding a religious belief. It held that Mr Conisbee’s vegetarianism amounted to an opinion and viewpoint and was not capable of protection.

The Tribunal did, however, discuss whether veganism could be considered a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The tribunal stated that “the reason for being a vegetarian differs greatly among themselves, unlike veganism where the reasons for being a vegan appear to be largely the same”. It therefore hinted that vegans could be treated differently because there is clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, which appears contrary to vegetarianism. It is expected for this point to be discussed and considered further in a case of Mr Casamitjiana, an ethical vegan, who is claiming discrimination due to his belief in veganism.

It will be interesting to see how further tribunal cases on the question of whether dietary and lifestyle choices amount to a belief. However, we are likely to see more cases in this area.

This article is not a definitive statement of the law. It is designed as a free update on the law at the time of publishing. It is not a substitute for legal advice on specific facts and circumstances. BakerLaw LLP and/or the writer accepts no liability or responsibility for reliance on this article and recommends that you seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances prior to taking any steps.