We’re only a few days into the new year and there has already been a major shake-up within the world of employment law.
The Employment Tribunal recently ruled that ethical veganism is to now be considered a philosophical belief which means that it is protected under law. The ruling came after Jordi Casamitjana, who claims he was unfairly sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports, an animal welfare charity, raised concerns with colleagues that its pension fund invested in companies involved in animal testing.
The judged ruled that ethical veganism satisfied the tests required for it to be considered a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010.
“The recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 will have potentially significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services,” stated Casamitjana’s solicitor, Peter Daly.
Helen Crossland, a partner at Seddons, added: “Employers always run the risk of an employee claiming that discrimination is a factor in their dismissal, such as here. Unless overturned on appeal, employers should expect to see legal protection extended to other beliefs, particularly as they become more established in society.”
But what does this landmark ruling mean for your business and what steps do you need to take to avoid finding yourself in the same position as League Against Cruel Sports?
What is an ‘ethical vegan’?
First, it’s important to establish exactly what this ruling means and, to do so, you’ll need to know what it means to be an ethical vegan.
There are two types of vegans – ethical and dietary – both of which eat a plant-based diet (i.e. absent of meat or animal products).
However, ethical vegans also try to avoid contact with products derived from any form of animal exploitation which goes beyond just the food they are eating.
This includes not wearing clothes made of wool or leather and not using products that are tested on animals.
What does this ruling mean for businesses?
This landmark ruling, though it seems to only apply directly to veganism at this moment in time, means that any business that fails to accommodate an employee’s dietary requirements, could face a discrimination claim and, following the success of this tribunal, more employees will feel inclined to make a claim should they feel their dietary needs have been discriminated against.
Hence, veganism and all other dietary preferences or needs must be considered by employers, such as vegetarians, pescatarians, Muslims who only eat halal meat, Jewish people who can only eat kosher foods, people with allergies or coeliac disease, i.e. cannot eat gluten.
You also need to be considerate of how ethical vegans operate outside of just the food that they eat. As mentioned above, their views and beliefs affect every decision they make. For example, if you were to employ an ethical vegan in your office and you provided them with a desk chair that was made of leather, they would, most likely, refuse to use this chair in line with ethical veganism.
Hence, as an employer, you could not then refuse to find them a more suitable chair or punish them for not using the equipment you have provided, as this would be classed as discrimination.
It’s cases like this that you will stumble upon more commonly in the workplace, as providing food for employees is usually a rarity for most companies, so you need to be more thoughtful about things like the equipment you provide your employees with and the products that they are asked to use.
This can be easily solved by having an open dialogue with all your employees to ensure that they feel comfortable coming to you about any issues or concerns they have, and that you then take appropriate action to support them.
You should also always be open to learn from them to better understand what their views are, why the have these views, and how it might affect the way they work.
How should businesses manage diverse diets in the workplace
In a survey conducted by the Vegan Society in 2018, there are approximately 600,000 vegans in Britain and this number is increasing by the day.
Furthermore, in the UK, 11% of meat sold is certified Halal, 1 in 100 people suffer from coeliac disease and there is a predicted growth of 11% in demand for kosher food.
These statistics show that there are a lot of diverse diets in the UK that employers need to be aware of in order to cater to the needs of their employees and avoid a discrimination claim.
Hence, if you are providing catering to your employees, or treating them to a meal, you need to first consider the different dietary needs of your staff.
One suggestion would be to ask your employees about their dietary requirements from day one of employment, as you would any important medical information, and inform them that they must notify you if this changes in the future.
You’ll then have a record of your employees dietary needs which you can refer to when that information is needed.
By ensuring that there are always vegetarian options available, at least one vegan option, and that any other diets in the workplace are recognised, you will make all your employees feel included and accepted.
You also need to consider any shared food storage spaces in the workplace, especially the fridge, as it may be necessary to separate meat by having a designated shelf for it and making sure that all employees are aware of this set up.
Finally, you also need to be conscious of the fact that employees with different dietary needs, especially if there are only one or two, may be the object of jokes or ‘banter’ amongst their colleagues.
It’s important to make sure that all employees understand that this could be upsetting for the person(s) in question and that it would be considered, and treated as, bullying and harassment in the workplace.
It may be necessary to conduct some training regarding diverse diets and cultures, so that your workforce is educated on the matter.
There is a lot to consider as a result of this new ruling for ethical veganism and we’re sure that you have some questions about how this will affect your business specifically. Do your employees need training? How can you make sure that you have all the information you need about your employee’s dietary needs? What if it slips your mind on one occasion and you order food for your staff forgetting that there is a vegan employee?
Before you spend the next few days in a panic, get in touch with us today and speak to one of our expert HR Consultants who can answer any of your questions and provide you with as much support and advice as you need.
You can call us on 0845 2626 260 or email us at [email protected]