A former care worker has lost her employment tribunal claim under the Equality Act 2010 after refusing the Covid-19 vaccination, she stated, on the grounds of being an ethical vegan.
Important points to note:
- Ethical veganism is considered a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 following the case of Casamitjana Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports.
- Ethical veganism is not just about diet, but rather extends to a philosophy and way of life which seeks to exclude as far as possible, all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals.
- The court, therefore, needed to establish whether the claimant’s belief in ethical veganism was genuinely held.
- The judge accepted that the claimant followed a vegan diet and avoided some products that were not vegan. However, on further questioning, the judge was not satisfied that the claimant held a belief in ethical veganism in particular.
- It’s important for employers to consider whether a claimant’s beliefs are genuinely held rather than accepting this without further questions.
Ms Owen was a bank care worker with a care home service. When the service brought in a mandatory requirement for staff to have the Covid-19 vaccine, she complained on the grounds that she did not wish to have the vaccine due to her being vegan. Her grievance was not upheld, and the claimant’s employment was terminated on the grounds that she had not had her Covid-19 vaccination, and did not have a valid exemption. She subsequently made a tribunal claim.
At a preliminary hearing, the judge considered the issue of whether the claimant held a protected belief, namely ethical veganism. The judge questioned the claimant on her beliefs and found that although the claimant held a vegan diet, she could produce no evidence to confirm that her beliefs and actions extended to ethical veganism. In any event, much of the claimant’s criticisms in relation to the vaccine appeared not to be connected to her veganism, but rather to concerns over its safety and testing.
Accordingly, the judge found that the claimant did not show that she had a protected characteristic, and her claim was dismissed.
It is doubtful whether the claimant’s claim would have succeeded in any event, due to the Government’s mandate in relation to the Covid-19 vaccine for care workers. However, this case is a good lesson demonstrating that the tribunal will inquire as to whether a claimant’s beliefs extend appropriately to grant them protected status under the Equality Act 2010.
- Whilst employers should seek to respect and be curious about employees’ beliefs, their beliefs will not always be protected by the Equality Act 2010. It is incumbent on the claimant to show that they can satisfy the Grainger criteria for a protected belief namely:
- That the belief is genuinely held;
- It is not simply an opinion or view based on the present state of information available;
- Concerns a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- Attains a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- Is worthy of respect in a democratic society.
- It is important for claimants to be able to show evidence of their beliefs in actions. The claimant in this case was unable to show any evidence of products that she used to avoid having to use animal products or how her life was structured and modified to follow her belief beyond her diet.
- It is questionable whether the claimant’s claim would have succeeded even if she had demonstrated her way of life committed to ethical veganism. Her protected belief would have needed to be the reason for the refusal of the vaccine, however, the judge noted that her reason for refusing was not so much about her ethical vegan beliefs and more about the safety of an untested vaccine.
An interesting case showing the expectations of the tribunal for claimants wanting to rely upon protected beliefs. Whilst we may have moved into a post-pandemic world free of mandatory vaccines (for now), protected beliefs and employees’ rights to such protections are still very much part of our landscape
If you have any queries which may be similar to the facts of this case contact one of our advisors today on 0121 200 3242.