Members of the vegan community can struggle in a non-vegan world to manifest their ethical convictions. Many acquire knowledge and confidence over time. This effort and confidence can be undermined when their integrity is challenged, and care should be taken not to question the depth or sincerity of conviction. A Christian would not be expected to provide extensive evidence of how they practise their Christianity or specify how long they have been Christian.
JEANETTE ROWLEY: Owen v. Willow Tower involves a vegan whose employment contract was terminated following Ms Owen refusing a Covid vaccine on the grounds of vegan beliefs. The tribunal found the claimant did not have the required continuity of service to bring a case of unfair dismissal and concluded, despite evidence provided, that she did not have a genuine belief in ethical veganism. An issue in this case was whether the claimant’s ethical veganism was genuinely held and whether it could be considered a philosophical belief, as recognised in Casamitjana.
Owen refused a Covid-19 vaccination due to ethical concerns about the use of animals in the production of vaccines, followed a strict vegan diet and avoided products that were tested on animals. She took her own food to work and used gloves when she was required to handle non-vegan products. The tribunal concluded that the evidence provided was insufficient to meet the requirement for holding a genuine belief in ethical veganism.
The tribunal had been invited to accept that the claimant was telling the truth about her belief in ethical veganism as she had given a sworn statement and evidence. However, the tribunal referred to the detail of individual vegan practice in Casamitjana, and applying a very high threshold to determine whether Owen held a genuine belief in ethical veganism, and whether she was a ‘good’ and ‘observant’ vegan, cited key failings. Among others, the tribunal cited failing to specify when she started believing in veganism, equating ethical veganism with a diet, failing to articulate more about her vegan practice, and handling non-vegan products at work (which the tribunal claimed was inconsistent with ethical veganism).
What the tribunal did not acknowledge was that determining that a belief is genuinely held should be ‘a question of fact in the specific circumstances and a limited enquiry rather than an assertion of the extent to which the claimant’s belief differs from the views of others…’… The demand for extensive evidence in terms of Casamitjana, as was requested and expected in this case, is arguably controversial.
The practices of individuals of all faiths and beliefs will be nuanced for a variety of reasons, including on the basis of what is practical and possible in individual circumstances. What may be essential practice for one might be unachievable for another, and there should be no imposition of a narrow conception of what constitutes ‘proper’ manifestation of ethical veganism. A Christian complainant, for example, would not be denied their faith simply because they do not attend church on Sunday. A Christian would also not be expected to provide extensive evidence of how they practise their Christianity or specify how long they have been Christian.
Members of the vegan community can struggle in a non-vegan world to manifest their ethical convictions. Many acquire knowledge and confidence over time. This effort and confidence can be undermined when their integrity is challenged, and care should be taken not to question the depth or sincerity of conviction.
The suggestion by the tribunal that handling non-vegan products in employment is inconsistent with ethical veganism, fails to consider unavoidable employment duties. It also fails to consider that the practice of vegans, as incorporated in the definition of veganism cited by the tribunal, is ‘as far as is practical and possible’ in the circumstances. An ethical vegan may feel uncomfortable when forced to compromise, as can be seen by Owen’s use of gloves, as and when necessary. The Equal Treatment Bench Book alerts us to the pitfalls of falling into the trap of not appreciating the nuanced practices of believers.
The tribunal also omitted to note that protection for ethical vegans is directly related to the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights…
Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
A vegan, therefore, is someone who believes in this philosophy of life. They eat a vegan diet and do what they can to avoid participating in the exploitation of non-human animals. It seems that Owen believed in and manifested this philosophy of life. She eats a vegan diet and goes further in her employment and her personal life… The Employment Statutory Code of Practice confirm that following a particular diet is a manifestation of belief. A discussion on evidence starts at this end of the spectrum, not the opposite. SOURCE…