By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits
Veganism is growing and, as such, pressure is mounting for employers to be more vegan-friendly. An Employment Tribunal case scheduled for this Oct could even see veganism becoming a protected characteristic.
How many of your colleagues follow a plant-based diet? If figures from the Vegan Society are anything to go by, the answer is probably more than this time last year.
Its research indicates that the number of vegans in the UK has jumped from 150,000 to 600,000 in the last five years – with thousands more signing up to “Veganuary” each January.
Some shun meat and animal products for health or environmental reasons. Others, known as ethical vegans, avoid all forms of animal exploitation, including leather goods.
Either way, they are more likely to choose to work for companies that correspond with their values.
Here, we explain companies’ obligations towards vegan employees, and offer advice for employers keen to avoid alienating the growing pool of vegan talent.
Veganism and employment law
The Equality Act 2010 includes nine protected characteristics, one of which is "religion or belief".
This means it is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee less favourably due to his or her religion, or to tell them to act in a way that goes against their beliefs.
The question is: does veganism count as a protected characteristic or not? While there is currently no clear-cut response to this question, that could soon change thanks to a landmark employment tribunal case scheduled for October 2019.
The plaintiff in the case, Jordi Casamitjana – a self-proclaimed ethical vegan, claims he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after voicing concerns about the animal welfare charity’s pension fund investing in companies that carry out animal testing.
The League Against Cruel Sports, meanwhile, says he was dismissed for gross misconduct. So what the court decides will be an important guide for employers.
Hannah Ford, Partner and employment law specialist at law firm Stevens & Bolton, said: “While veganism itself is not explicitly listed as a protected characteristic, people who follow a vegan lifestyle for ethical reasons could argue that doing so is based on a ‘philosophical belief’, which is a protected characteristic.
“To be protected under equality legislation, a belief must be genuinely held, cogent and serious, and relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
“It is not difficult to envisage a tribunal finding that a belief in ethical veganism meets these tests.”
Veganism and discrimination claims
You may think the chances of facing a discrimination case brought by a vegan are small.
But according to recent research from Crossland Employment Solicitors, almost half of vegan employees have experienced discrimination in the workplace.
It may therefore be worth introducing vegan-friendly policies now to avoid potential claims and accommodate the needs of this growing section of the workforce.
“As veganism becomes more prevalent, employers should take steps to ensure that vegan employees are not treated less favourably or subject to criticism, and that vegan options are catered for whenever food or drinks are provided,” Ford said.
“Employers looking to accommodate vegan requirements may also wish to consider introducing wool-free uniforms, cruelty-free soap and non-leather furniture.”