A recent employment tribunal, in Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others, has found that vegetarianism is not a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act 2010. Interestingly, however, the tribunal suggested that veganism is more likely to be protected under the Act.
Mr Conisbee, who is vegetarian, resigned from his position as a hotel waiter after he was shouted at in front of customers for wearing an un-ironed shirt. Mr Conisbee could not bring a claim for constructive unfair dismissal as he had not worked for his employer, Crossley Farms Ltd, for long enough, but instead claimed that his employer had discriminated against him for being vegetarian. He brought an employment tribunal claim for religion or belief discrimination under the Equality Act.
In support of his claim, Mr Conisbee claimed that he had been bullied by colleagues who gave him snacks and later told him they contained meat, such as a croissant that had been basted in duck fat and pistachio sponge pudding that contained gelatine powder.
As a vegetarian, Mr Conisbee claimed that he should have the same rights as employees who suffer discrimination over their religious beliefs or sexual orientation, which are characteristics protected by the Equality Act.
Mr Conisbee’s argument was that many vegetarians feel that: “it is wrong and immoral to eat animals and subject them and the environment to cruelty and perils of farming and slaughter”. He said that, for many vegetarians, this is not a mere “opinion or viewpoint”, but is a “serious belief integral to [their] way of life”. Mr Conisbee cited a Wikipedia article from 2010 stating that 21.8% of the world’s population are vegetarians. He argued that vegetarianism has attained a high level of cogency, seriousness, and importance, and is certainly worthy of respect in a democratic society.
In response, Crossley Farms claimed that Mr Conisbee’s belief is simply an “opinion or viewpoint” that is not capable of protection under the Equality Act.
Mr Conisbee’s claim was rejected by the tribunal who decided that vegetarianism was a “lifestyle choice” but not a “philosophical belief” capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010.
The employment tribunal did, however, suggest that veganism may qualify for the legal protection as there was “a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief”, as vegans all shun meat, fish, and dairy products because they believe it is “contrary to a civilised society and against climate control”.