Is Ethical Veganism Covered by Your Anti-Discrimination Policy?
If your business has employees only in the
United States, then the answer is probably no. But if you are a multi-national employer, then perhaps it should be.
An employment tribunal in the UK has ruled
that an employee’s ethical veganism may be a protected characteristic under the
UK Equality Act 2010, which protects “any religious or philosophical
belief.” Although the UK law is broad in
scope, it is not without limits. Whether
a particular belief is covered depends on certain factors. Beliefs such as Scottish independence and man-made
climate change have been held to be protected on the specific facts of the
cases at issue, but other claims have failed (such as a belief in the ownership
of intellectual property rights, which was asserted by an employee who was
terminated for refusing to sign her employer’s copyright agreement).
Other countries’ anti-discrimination
statutes may offer similar surprises to employers. For example, a Belgian
statute prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s wealth, while a South
African statute prohibits discrimination based on either birth or family
status. India prohibits discrimination based on the caste system, reflecting
particular issues relating to that jurisdiction’s societal structures and
The takeaway for multi-national employers
is that while there is a significant degree of consistency across jurisdictions
with respect to commonly protected characteristics (such as gender, race, religion
and disability), an employer needs to be alert to the local differences in
anti-discrimination legislation and to tailor its approach to local laws and
customs, some of which might be quite surprising.