Vegetarianism not a philosophical belief

Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others

In an intriguing case, the Tribunal considered whether vegetarianism is a belief, and therefore a protected characteristic, or a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Mr Conisbee, the claimant, resigned after being told off for not ironing his shirt. As he’d only been employed for five months, he didn’t have the requisite period of employment to bring an unfair dismissal claim. Instead, he claimed he had suffered discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief due to his vegetarianism. Mr Conisbee claimed he’d been ridiculed for not eating meat, and that his colleagues had given him food contaminated with meat based products.

Although Mr Conisbee’s employer agreed that he had a genuine belief in his vegetarianism, they argued that being vegetarian is not a protected characteristic. It was also argued that it was never intended for lifestyle choices such as vegetarianism or veganism to fall within the remit of protected characteristics.

The Employment Tribunal agreed with the Employer. Interestingly though, the judge contrasted vegetarianism to veganism and the fact that vegans have a clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and against climate control. This indicated that a claim for veganism as a belief is more likely to succeed.

Legal opinion

Although we don’t know the facts of the alleged discrimination, the concept of someone suffering discrimination for not eating meat is intriguing, not least as we were unlikely to have seen a claim like this a few years ago before veganism enjoyed the popularity it does today.

The Tribunal’s decision in this case seems highly sensible as finding in favour of Mr Conisbee could open the floodgates to similar ‘lifestyle’ claims. It is worth noting that the outcome may have been different had Mr Conisbee had the requisite 2+ years of service as he may have been able to successfully argue constructive dismissal on the basis that mutual trust and confidence had broken down. This, then, serves as a reminder to employers of the importance of promoting an inclusive working environment.