The tribunal comes just months after a case in which an employee claimed he was bullied due to being a vegetarian, however the judge ruled that a vegetarian diet is a "lifestyle choice" and does not qualify for protection under the Act. For a belief to be protected, it must meet a series of tests which include being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity, and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others.
Ethical Vegans not only follow a vegan diet but also follow a lifestyle which seeks to exclude (as far as possible) all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; therefore, satisfying the tests required for veganism to be classed as a philosophical belief.
Employers must be careful to ensure they avoid taking any action which might discriminate against vegan employees, either directly or indirectly. So what practical steps can you take as an employer following this landmark ruling?
1. Make sure that your policies and procedures are updated. Equal opportunities policies and procedures should make it clear that ethical veganism should be considered as a philosophical belief. Ethical vegans should be given the same protections as those in place for employees with other religious or philosophical beliefs.
2. Ensure you are catering for vegans. If you have a staff canteen ensure there are vegan options, or if you are arranging a social event ensure that the menu provides vegan dishes.
3. Consider the products you use. Are the soaps within the bathrooms tested on animals? If your staff are required to wear uniforms do these contain wool or leather?