It is well known that things like race, sex and disability are protected characteristics for the purposes of our discrimination laws. However, perhaps less well known is the protected characteristic relating to a person’s philosophical belief. Earlier this year, an Employment Tribunal (in a case called Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited and others) assessed whether vegetarianism fell within scope of this as the Claimant claimed that he was discriminated against because he did not eat meat.

The Tribunal concluded that vegetarianism was not protected. They said that it was not enough to just have an opinion based on real or perceived logic. (The Claimant had said “I happen to believe that the environment would be a better place without slaughtering animals for food”.) It was also relevant that people become vegetarians for many different reasons, such as lifestyle, health and animal welfare. To be a protected belief, there must be cogency and cohesion. Also, the Tribunal found that vegetarianism is not about a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour – it is about preserving the life of animals and fish.

This is a first instance decision and therefore is not binding on other Tribunals (as only judgments from higher Tribunals and Courts must be followed). However, what is interesting is that issues like this are now making their way into the courts. With more and more people changing their lifestyle and calls for us to eat less meat, this is a topic to watch for all employers. With that in mind, it is worth noting that a case called Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports was heard last month about veganism and we await the outcome as to whether this was found to be a protected characteristic.