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05 November 2019

201: Employment Tribunal rules that vegetarianism is not a protected philosophical belief

In Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others, the Employment Tribunal held that vegetarianism is not a philosophical belief and does not therefore qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010.

Mr Conisbee resigned as a waiter after five months of employment, claiming that he had been subjected to derogatory remarks from colleagues about his vegetarianism. He brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal alleging discrimination on the grounds of philosophical belief. His vegetarianism was based on his belief that the environment would be a better place without slaughtering animals for food, and that animals should not be bred or killed for food. A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether this amounted to a philosophical belief.

The Tribunal followed the criteria set out in the guidance notes to the Equality Act 2010 and the test established in Grainger plc v Nicholson. It was not disputed that Mr Conisbee’s belief in vegetarianism was genuinely held and worthy of respect in our democratic society. However, in the Tribunal’s view, it did not concern a sufficiently weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour, since vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice. The Tribunal rejected Mr Conisbee’s argument that many vegetarians base their belief on the premise that it is wrong and cruel to eat animals, and that this belief is integral to their way of life, not a mere opinion or viewpoint. It also ruled that Mr Conisbee’s belief did not attain a sufficient level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance because people are vegetarians for a variety of reasons, such as lifestyle, health, diet, or animal welfare. Noting that it is not enough to have an opinion based on real or perceived logic, the Tribunal concluded that Mr Conisbee’s belief in vegetarianism, and that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food, did not qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010.

This is an Employment Tribunal decision and therefore not binding on other Tribunals. It is interesting to note that the judgment contrasts vegetarianism with veganism. According to the Tribunal, the reasons for being a vegetarian differ greatly, whereas the reasons for veganism appear to be largely the same. Vegans do not accept the practice of eating meat, fish or dairy products and have a clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and climate control. On the other hand, vegetarianism could be based on a variety of reasons, including animal rights, taste or dietary requirements. The Tribunal’s conclusion that there is a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief which is lacking in vegetarianism is somewhat controversial, since it is arguable that veganism is now also based on a wider range of reasons. However, this case is also a reminder to employers that Tribunals will give a broad interpretation to the scope of a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

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