Vegetarianism is not a Protected Characteristic

The Employment Tribunal (“the ET”) has recently handed down judgment in the case of Conisbee v Crossley that vegetarianism is not a philosophical belief amounting to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

A philosophical belief is one which must satisfy one of the following:

  • The belief must be genuinely held and not a mere opinion or viewpoint;
  • The belief must be a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • It must contain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • It must have similar status or cogency to a religious belief; and
  • The belief must be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Mr Crossley was employed by the Respondent and later resigned after only 4 months of employment. He issued proceedings before the ET for a number of claims including a complaint on the grounds of religion and belief; the belief being his vegetarianism.

During the hearing, Mr Crossley’s barrister put forward that many vegetarians, including the Claimant, are genuine in their belief and that many vegetarians, including the Claimant, base their belief on the premise that is wrong and immoral to eat animals and subject them to cruelty. Mr Crossley’s barrister also submitted that a large amount of the population are vegetarians and that therefore vegetarianism is clearly a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour which attains a high level of cogency, seriousness and importance. His barrister therefore submitted that vegetarianism is capable of meeting the criteria for a philosophical belief.

The Respondent’s barrister submitted that the Claimant’s claim should fail because his belief was merely an opinion or viewpoint;, the belief is not about human life and behaviour rather about preserving the life of animals or fish. The Respondent’s barrister also asserted that the cogency is not similar to a religious belief because although the Claimant might hold a strong belief in his vegetarianism, this is not necessarily the case for all other vegetarians with there being many reasons why people choose to be vegetarians. Some people may only be vegetarian for a short period of time or chose to be one for dietary purposes.

The ET accepted that the Claimant was vegetarian and he had a genuine belief in his vegetarianism. However, the ET stated that the Claimant’s belief was his opinion and view point. It concluded therefore that the belief did not seem to be a belief capable of protection as it was not enough to have an opinion based on some real or perceived logic. Furthermore, the ET ruled that vegetarianism is not about human life and behaviour rather it is a lifestyle choice. The ET therefore concluded that vegetarianism did not amount to a philosophical belied capable of being a protected characteristic.

Although the ET ruled in this case that vegetarianism is not a philosophical belief that does not mean that this case should be a precedent for this type of claim since it is a first-tier decision that is not binding on other tribunals. It is, however, a useful review of the law on what is a philosophical belief and an interesting example how tribunals are viewing beliefs that an individual holds based on their circumstances and lifestyles.