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 history.
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.
This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.