Last week, the Vegan Society created a booklet which sets out guidelines for employers on how to support vegans in the workplace, after a recent court ruling confirmed vegans in the workplace are protected by law.
The case which was brought by Jordi Casamitjana ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief for the Equality Act 2010.
Despite the significant press interest given to the case which no doubt inspired the Society to put together the guidance, employers need to understand the current legal position of vegans in the workplace. The employment tribunal is reported to have held that ‘ethical veganism’ is a philosophical belief. Therefore, ethical vegans can claim that they have been discriminated against because of their belief.
It’s important to note that the employment tribunal case concerns’ ethical vegans’ only, so, not all vegans will be protected. Ethical vegans are those who go further than choosing not to eat meat products. The claimant in the case described his ethical veganism as influencing the clothes he wore, toiletries he purchased, his mode of transport etc. Therefore, not all individuals who describe themselves as vegan will also be ethical vegans.
Another important aspect for employers to consider is that the tribunal case did not change the law on veganism. Currently, there is no legal requirement for employers to change any of their practices to ensure they are compatible with ethical veganism. However, employers who choose to provide support to vegans may want to review specific areas of work and the workplace as best practice.
One of the main areas to consider is food and food equipment. The guidance highlights that businesses could separate food preparation areas of kitchens into vegan and non-vegan divisions, with colour coded equipment. A designated vegan food storage area could also be provided, such as a fridge shelf. When employees attend work events, vegans should have the opportunity to request that appropriate food is available for them.
The guide also suggests organisations should review work uniforms – employers should consider allowing vegans to wear synthetic safety boots, for example, and non-leather mobile phone cases.
The guidance additionally indicates that some less obvious work-related aspects should be given some thought. For example, corporate events and team-building exercises which involve horse racing or other animals should not require the attendance of vegans.
Where non-vegan products are to be purchased, vegans should be exempt from the buying process, or the signing off of the buying process. Also, pension investment may need to be discussed with vegan employees.
Finally, a respectful and inclusive environment should be fostered, with the guide pointing out that employers should take steps to ensure that burdensome jokes do not occur.
Paul Holcroft, Associate Director at HR consultancy, Croner