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Veganism & Equality
More people are embracing veganism as their dietary option, but does it affect equality in the workplace?
A protected belief is a genuinely held principle and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available. It must be a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, be serious and worthy of respect and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Although this definition would usually apply to religious matters, a 2018 Employment Tribunal decided that veganism is included under the Equality Act. Whatever your views on veganism, how does it affect employers?
The ET decision applies to “ethical veganism” only and not a view adopted on fashion or dietary grounds. Further, if not using animal products help you to lose weight, is popular with your friends or you think it makes you sound up to date with the latest trends, will not count either. Ethical veganism means averting animal exploitation very seriously. In this ET case, the claimant avoided leather clothing, touching animal skin, and even avoided travelling by vehicle where possible so as not to be party to the death of the insects splatted on the windscreen.
We are all aware of the need to respect an individual’s choices, and it’s good practice to respect dietary preferences and requirements. Many employers are aware of the different meal options for different religions, but an employer must not ridicule those who are vegetarian or vegan. Social events should cater for dietary choices and requirements. Lines like “You can’t be a true vegan because you have leather shoes.” are about as unwise as “You can’t be a proper Christian because you don’t go to church every Sunday” (xperthr, 2020).
However, this tribunal decision is not binding and may be appealed. Nevertheless, it does raise questions about direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Just as the line between protected disability and unprotected sickness is often very blurred, the same may be true here.
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