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Religion and belief discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against unlawful direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation for the protected characteristics of 'religion or belief'.

Key points

  • 'Religion' means any religion, or a lack of religion, and 'belief' means any religious or philosophical belief, or a lack of belief.
  • Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated, or would be treated, less favourably ‘because of’ religion or belief compared with others in like-for-like circumstances.
  • Indirect religion or belief discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) puts an employee of one religion or belief at a particular at a disadvantage. An employer may be able to justify the PCP as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
  • An occupational requirement, where the nature or context of the work requires a worker to be of a particular religion or belief, or the employer’s ethos requires workers to hold certain beliefs, can be lawful exceptions to direct and indirect discrimination. 
  • Harassment occurs where unwanted conduct related to religion or belief violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. 
  • Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment because of carrying out a ‘protected act’ (for example, bringing a discrimination claim).
  • Employers are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees ‘in the course of employment’.


Tribunal rules that Ethical Veganism is a philosophical belief

An employment tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and therefore protected by law against discrimination. In the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, the employment tribunal (ET) confirmed that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required to be a philosophical belief.

This case concerned the claimant Jordi Casamitjana, who claimed he was unfairly dismissed from his position after raising concerns that the organisation’s pension fund invested in businesses that were involved in animal testing. Identifying as an ethical vegan, the claimant asserted that his dismissal was due to his beliefs. Ultimately, the tribunal held that his belief in ethical veganism satisfied the tests to establish philosophical belief.

This decision does not mean all vegans, or even those who identify as ethical vegans, are now to be considered as having a philosophical belief. Having said that, this ruling has received a significant amount of publicity and it is highly likely to encourage more employees who do feel discriminated against because of their veganism to consider bringing claims.