EMPLOYERS have to accept that “ethical veganism” is a philosophical belief whose followers are protected by law, a solicitor has warned.

A ruling in an employment tribunal has signalled that people who are vegan for ethical reasons must be protected from discrimination and victimisation.

A tribunal judge ruled last week that he was “overwhelmingly satisfied” that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and is therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Claimant Jordi Casamitjana claims he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing. The 55-year-old, from London, says he was unfairly disciplined for making this disclosure and that the decision to dismiss him was because of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.

At his employment tribunal in Norwich on Friday, judge Robin Postle ruled that ethical veganism satisfied the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief and is therefore a protected characteristic.

Amy Cousineau Massey, consultant employment solicitor with Woodstock Property Law in Poole, said: “This means that ethical vegans now enjoy all of the protections from discrimination, harassment and victimisation as set out in the Equality Act 2010.

“Broadly speaking this means they are protected from less favourable treatment because of their vegan beliefs and lifestyle.”

She said service providers such as banks, cafes and shops should also treat their ethical vegan customers fairly.

“It is worth noting that protection is only afforded to vegans who practice veganism on ethical grounds and that vegetarianism is not protected,” she said.

She added: “The ruling means that businesses must now be alert ethical veganism as a protected characteristic. Businesses must take steps to ensure the ethical vegans are treated fairly. Protections for ethical vegans will apply broadly; employees and employment applicants are protected as are customers and service users receiving goods and services.

“For example, a staff canteen may need to provide a vegan food option and where an employer provides tea and coffee, it may now need to also provide for milk alternatives such as soy, oat or almond milk.”

In some circumstances, an employer may need to consider its pension provision and be ready to give ethical vegan employees a way of selecting investments that are free from animal cruelty or environmental concerns.

“Employers will also want to educate their staff on this new protected characteristic so that harassment and victimisation on the grounds of ethical veganism can be prevented,” she added.

“Awareness and education will be key as an employer can be vicariously liable for the acts of its employees. In other words, an employer could be held to account if one of its employees harasses another employee or customer.”

Dietary vegans and ethical vegans both eat a plant-based diet, but ethical vegans also try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation including not wearing clothing made of wool or leather and not using products tested on animals.

The League Against Cruel Sports did not contest the issue of whether ethical veganism should be a protected belief during the hearing.

Under the Equality Act it is unlawful to discriminate, harass or victimise workers or job applicants on the grounds of their religion, religious belief or philosophical belief.

For a belief to be protected under the Act, it must meet a series of tests including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity, not conflicting with fundamental rights of others and genuinely held.

A full judgemement on Mr Casamitjana’s case against the league will be delivered later.