HPC Law Update: When is a “belief” a belief?
When is a “belief” a belief?
The Equality Act 2010 was brought into force on 24 January 2010 – happy anniversary!
One of the most important parts of the legislation was to create ‘protected characteristics’, i.e. traits or characteristics which are protected from discrimination. These characteristics are:-
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
They all appear to be fairly self-explanatory. However, following a recent Employment Tribunal, I will focus on number 6 – Religion or Belief. Belief is defined in the Act as “any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief”
The Act gives protection to those who believe that they have been treated less favourably than a person who does not have the same belief.
A recent case, Jordi Casamitjana –v- League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) was heard by the Employment Tribunal which found that ethical veganism was considered to be a belief for the purposes of the Act.
Mr. Casamitjana claimed that he was dismissed due to his ethical veganism, but LACS said that it was for gross misconduct. That issue is still to be decided, but the issue which was decided was that ethical veganism was considered as a belief.
Ethical veganism is more than just a decision not to eat meat, dairy, foodstuffs or the use of animal products. It goes further and covers the use of animals for any purpose such as animal testing.
The decision is not binding and so it does not have to follow by the Tribunal in other cases. However, it is a decision that opens the door for other ‘beliefs’ to be protected under the legislation. It is interesting to note that the Act also covers a “lack of belief”.
It does however send a message that employers need to ensure that they are ensuring that they are aware of their staff’s beliefs so that they are not opening themselves up to criticism or potential claims, particularly as an employee does not require two years’ service to bring a claim for discrimination, unlike with unfair dismissal.
It will be interesting to see if any other similar claims are brought on the grounds of a belief.
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