Could workplace banter directed at vegans get your workplace in hot water?

With the Christmas period and many staff parties now distant memories, we thought we may have escaped enquiries about workplace banter.

However, the New Year may bring with it a newly recognised ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act 2010.

A claim that ‘Ethical Veganism’ where vegans try to exclude all forms of animal cruelty (not just a choice based on the individual health benefits but a more global approach to the welfare of the animal and the environment) is set to be determined by the employment tribunal following a claim against the League Against Cruel Sports.

Mr. Casamitjana found out his employer was investing pension funds in companies that tested on animals. After raising the issue with his employer they continued to make investments so he started to share his knowledge with his colleagues. He was dismissed for gross misconduct. The full facts have yet to be seen in the tribunal but the important decision is whether ‘Ethical Veganism’ amounts to a philosophical belief. If it does, employees who hold this belief will be protected from discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It is often a very thin line between what is considered acceptable banter and what amounts to bullying or harassment. If you are an employer, you need to consider how this managed. What steps would you take to ensure an ethical vegan wasn’t the subject of bullying or harassment at work if it became a recognised belief? Would your current policy cover it? Helpfully, you can find guidance and more detail from places like ACAS (online) but we are always on hand to give advice on what may constitute a philosophical belief or how you can minimise your risk of claims. If you need further advice please contact our Head of Employment, Melanie Davies.