Veganuary & Employment

The 1st January 2021 marked the beginning of Veganuary, the month-long challenge that encourages meat-eaters to stick to a plant based diet. With over 400,000 participants last year, and this year it is set to be the best year yet, Veganism is clearly on the rise.

Veganuary: Employment, the Workplace, and Supporting Employees

Author: Paula Beck, HR Business Partner for PACT HR

Date: 12th January 2021

Last year’s landmark Employment Tribunal ruling, (Casamitjana v LACS) stated ethical veganism can be a ‘philosophical belief’ and therefore protected in law.

Firstly, what is veganism?

The Vegan Society Defines it as; “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Following the court ruling on the Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) case, it may be that vegans can in some cases rely on legal protection. In this particular case, the employee’s Ethical Veganism was beyond not eating meat and avoiding animal products. He avoided clothes, cosmetics, shoes containing animal products. He walked rather than getting public transport as he was less likely to kill insects. He refused to use paper money, opting to pay for goods and services with contactless cards and coins as bank notes contain animal products. He worked in animal protection, was involved in animal rights activism and only dated fellow vegans. So, there is a distinction between dietary vegans who are cutting out meat to ethical vegans who hold philosophical beliefs of the rights and dignity of animals.

What does this mean for an employer?

The main concern for employers, from an employment law perspective is avoiding discrimination claims. Under the 2010 Equality Act there is a legal obligation upon employers to ensure that they do not either directly or indirectly discriminate against someone because of their protected characteristics such as age, disability, gender, marriage or civil partnership, gender reassignment, pregnancy/maternity, sex, race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, and religion or philosophical belief. The most recent court ruling stated that ethnical veganism in the workplace fell under a philosophical belief.

If an employee can show they are being treated less favourably due to their ‘philosophical belief’ this leaves you open to employees putting in a claim at an employment tribunal for discrimination and if successful it could be costly as it is uncapped compensation.

Some practical tips for employers

  • Ensure employees are all trained in Equality and Diversity.
  • Create a positive inclusive culture.
  • Take a proactive approach against bullying, harassment and victimisation of vegans and investigate concerns.
  • Challenge ‘banter'.
  • Offer Vegan Friendly food options in the cafeteria.
  • Making informed choices about uniforms and uniform policy e.g. not expecting employees to wear leather shoes by providing alternatives.
  • Furniture choices – avoiding leather or wool if possible.
  • Allow the opportunity for employees to opt out of events which they may be ethically opposed to such as a summer BBQ or a dog racing event.

Aside from avoiding costly legal challenges, the benefits of catering for a diverse workforce can be critical in the recruitment and retention of key talent.

For further tips and guidance for Veganism in the workplace, The Vegan Society has produced some guidance:

At PACT HR we provide straight forward practical advice. Providing strategic support or day-to-day advice with HR queries, regarding managing absence, conduct, performance to more complex casework such as discrimination, bullying, harassment and victimisation. We are available when you need us and our subscriptions do not have limits on the amount of time we spend with you or how often you contact us – when you need us we are there! In addition, we have also designed a portfolio of services to suit a variety of organisational and HR needs. These include HR Consultancy, Training, Recruitment Advertising and Online DBS checking.

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