Despite the increase in ‘plant-based’ eating across the UK, the Employment Tribunal in Norwich has held that a vegetarian employee can’t make a claim for discrimination, as vegetarianism does not count as a ‘belief’.


Facts

Mr Conisbee was a vegetarian, and he resigned from his job as a waiter at a hotel in Suffolk where he had worked for 5 months. He claimed that during his time there, he was discriminated against on the grounds of religion or belief by being unknowingly given puddings containing gelatin (a meat product) by his colleagues.

He argued that his vegetarianism deserves the same protection as other religious or philosophical beliefs, because he had the genuine belief that it is immoral to eat animals. He emphasized how serious this belief was to him, and how it was integral to his way of life.


A ‘philosophical belief’

In order to meet the legislative test, the belief must:

1. Be genuinely held;
2. Be a belief, not an opinion or a viewpoint;
3. Be a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
4. Attract a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
5. Have similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

The Hotel company accepted that Mr Conisbee’s vegetarianism was genuinely held, but said that this was merely an opinion. They argued that vegetarianism is not about human life or behaviour, but about preserving the life of animals. It is also a belief that can change throughout life at the whim of an individual, and therefore lacks the cohesion needed for employers knowing with certainty whether a person had a protected characteristic or not.


Ruling

The Employment Tribunal held that the belief was worthy and genuinely held, but they were not persuaded that vegetarianism amounted to a philosophy that could be protected. This was because it did not concern a “weighty and substantial” aspect of human life, and it did not reach the required level of seriousness, cohesion and importance, as the reason for being a vegetarian differ amongst vegetarians.

Reasons

The judge distinguished vegetarianism from veganism (where an individual does not eat or use any animal products at all), as this restricts all animal products. Therefore the judge inferred that the reasons behind being a vegan are more consistent as being for the reason of protecting animals, whereas the vegetarian lifestyle could be for health, personal taste, economic reasons and the environment as well as for minimising animal consumption. The potentially transient nature of vegetarianism led the judge to conclude that too high a burden would be placed on employers to determine whether or not an employee has a protected belief or not.


Comment

7% of the UK are ‘plant-based’ eaters, and despite the ruling, this is a likely to be something that crops up again. In fact, the Employment Tribunal is due to hear a case concerning whether ‘ethical veganism’ deserves protection from discrimination. With 4.7% of the Japanese population vegetarian, and 2.7% vegan, it is likely that being respectful of an individual’s diet choice is something that employers will need to be increasingly aware of.


For more information, please contact Yoko Nakada on yoko.nakada@lewissilkin.com or Koichiro Nakada on koichiro.nakada@lewissilkin.com.
For further information, please contact Koichiro Nakada – Head of Japan Business Group (koichiro.nakada@lewissilkin.com) and Yoko Nakada - Senior Associate, Deputy Head of Japan Business Group (yoko.nakada@lewissilkin.com).
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