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Can vegetarianism be held as a philosophical belief?

In Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited and others, the Employment Tribunal held that vegetarianism does not amount to a philosophical belief that can be afforded protection as a 'Protected Characteristic' under the Equality Act 2010.

Background

Mr Conisbee started working as a waiter at the Fritton Arms Hotel, owned by Crossley Farms Ltd, in April 2018. Mr Conisbee is a vegetarian and believes that (as he put in his witness statement) “the environment would be a better place without slaughtering animals for food” and that “‚Ķanimals should not be bred, caged or killed for the purposes of food”.

On 28 August 2018, Mr Conisbee was reprimanded for attending work in an un-ironed shirt. It was accepted by the Tribunal that Mr Conisbee was shouted at, and may have been sworn at, in front of the customers. Mr Conisbee also alleged that he was given snacks by his colleagues, which, unbeknownst to him, included duck fat and gelatine and was called ‘gay’ for being a vegetarian.

Mr Conisbee resigned from his position on 30 August 2018, and brought a harassment claim, on the grounds of religious and belief discrimination, and a claim for notice pay. As Mr Conisbee had only been employed for a short period of time, he was unable to bring a claim for unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act 1996.

A number of Mr Conisbee’s colleagues were named as individual Respondents to the claim.

Employment Tribunal

After hearing submissions from both parties, the Tribunal held that, whilst Mr Conisbee’s vegetarianism was a genuinely held belief, it did not meet the threshold for protection under the Equality Act 2010.

The Tribunal concluded that vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice and, although an admirable one, is not a belief that is ‘weighty and a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour’. In coming to this decision, the Tribunal noted that there are a number of reasons why individuals become vegetarian such as, animal rights, taste and dietary requirements. It is clear from Mr Conisbee’s witness statement that his own personal beliefs relating to vegetarianism were based on animal rights.

As a result, the Tribunal (being wary of not setting too high a bar) did not consider there was enough ‘cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’ to the view, as is required by the Equality Act 2010. By contrast, the Tribunal hinted, however, that veganism may be protected as most vegans tend to agree that “killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control”, highlighting a cohesive belief system. Unfortunately, the Tribunal did not make a judgement on this and, as such, it is a matter that is subject to the same dispute.

In making its decision, the Tribunal held that it was not enough for a person to have an opinion based on some real, or perceived, logic and that any belief must be deeper than this to attain protection.

Comments

This case is an interesting insight into how the Employment Tribunal approaches religion/belief claims and the tests/considerations that will be applied. It is a warning to all employers that they should fully consider their employee’s beliefs in the context of the Equality Act 2010.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect you, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of our employment team.