Employment law

Religion & belief discrimination explained

Did you know that your religion and beliefs such as veganism are protected under the Equality Act 2010?

10 March 2020

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What is religion and belief discrimination?

Workplace discrimination happens every day and can take a number of forms.

Its unlawful for any employer or colleagues to discriminate against you because of your faith, religion or other sincerely held philosophical belief, including lack of region or belief.

Discrimination can take many forms, from being refused an interview because of your religion to being bullied or humiliated by work colleagues for your faith and beliefs.

Religion or belief is one of nine protected characteristic covered by The Equality Act 2010 which provides legal protection for everyone in the UK against unfair treatment.

How are beliefs defined?

The Equality Act 2010 doesn’t only recognise mainstream beliefs and organised religions like being a Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Sikh. Beliefs such as being a vegan, Marxist, Creationist or Wiccan may also be protected by The Equality Act if the belief meets the criteria set out in the case of Grainger plc v Nicholson.

In order to pass the test and qualify for protection from discrimination, a person’s belief must:

  • be genuinely held
  • be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Is veganism counted as a philosophical belief?

We acted for Jordi Casamitjana in a landmark legal case which established ethical veganism as a philosophical belief held by a significant and growing portion of the population in the UK and around the world. The judgement by the Employment Tribunal was made at the public hearing on the 3 January 2020 and listed the following reasons:

  • The definition of the protected belief is based on the Vegan Society definition which gives a wide protection and makes clear that it’s not only a limited subset of ethical vegans that are protected
  • A person may be protected even if they transgress from an ethical vegan lifestyle. This means that someone who consumes a non-vegan product may still be protected as long as they still uphold their belief
  • The protected belief is one that promotes the benefits of ethical veganism. Encouraging others to follow a vegan lifestyle is a core aspect of the belief and is also protected

The full record of the hearing can be viewed here.

What should I do if I think I'm being discriminated against because of my religious or philosophical beliefs?

It’s important to take action as soon as possible so that you can make a discrimination claim and resolve the issue. You’ve three months minus one day from the date of the last discriminatory act towards you to begin a complaint at an employment tribunal.

Firstly, you’ll need to notify the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) and they’ll approach your employer and establish if they’ll agree to early conciliation which can take up to a month. If this fails, our employment law team will help you to bring a discrimination claim at an employment tribunal.

If you’ve been subjected to discrimination, harassment or victimisation at work due to your faith, religion or beliefs call us on freephone 0330 041 5869 or contact us online here and we’ll call you back.

All information was correct at the time of publication.

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