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An Employment Tribunal in Norwich has found that a Claimant’s vegetarianism was not the protected characteristic of religion or belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and that his Claim could therefore go no further.

Mr Conisbee was employed by the Respondent as a waiter and barman for about 5 months until he resigned following an incident at work when he had been told off for turning up in an unironed shirt.

As he had less than 2 years’ service he could not bring an Unfair Dismissal Claim but he brought Claims alleging various incidents of harassment and discrimination which he said he had suffered because he was a vegetarian.

Non-religious philosophical beliefs qualify for protection under the Equality Act if certain criteria are met. These include that they are genuinely held and are not a mere opinion or viewpoint, must relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, attain a certain level of cogency and seriousness, be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

It has previously been held in another case that belief in man-made climate change is capable of being a protected characteristic.

The Employment Judge had to decide whether the test was met in this case. 

The Judge decided that it was not.

There was no doubt about the genuineness of the Claimant’s view that “the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food”, but it was an “opinion” rather than a “belief.” (Although it is hard to see where one draws the line between the two.)

Vegetarianism was a “lifestyle choice” which could not be said to relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. (Some might question this – choice of food might be said to be a very substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.)

The belief did not have the necessary cogency and seriousness – there are all manner of reasons, from health considerations to simple personal taste, why people are vegetarians.

Interestingly the Judge drew a contrast between vegetarianism and veganism and suggested that the all-encompassing worldview and total rejection of any consumption or exploitation of animals which is involved in the latter would potentially fall on the other side of the dividing line.

This case is only a first instance decision and is not binding in other cases, and it could yet be appealed. Nevertheless it is an interesting one and contains plenty of scope for further argument.


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