Earlier this year, research by Finder revealed the number of vegans in the UK is set to skyrocket by 327 % by 2020. The poll results suggest that over the next year, 2.2. million people will adopt veganism, increasing the vegan population to around 2.9 million. As more people change to a plant-based diet, employers are more likely to come across employees who do label themselves as vegans. While the dietary choices of a workforce might not seem to be a significant issue for employers to focus on, recent commentary from a tribunal suggests change may be on its way.
Despite the lack of prevailing case law on the matter, there is the suggestion that veganism could qualify as a philosophical belief in the future, therefore granting individuals protection from discrimination. However, for a belief to receive this protection a number of criteria must be met, including the need for it to be genuinely held, be about a substantial aspect of human behaviour and be worthy of respect in a democratic society.
A recent employment tribunal judge suggested that veganism would stand a chance of receiving this protection as the belief consisted of ‘clear cogency and cohesion’. He also added that vegans maintained an apparent belief that using any form of an animal-based product is ‘contrary to a civilised society’. Therefore, to guard against any potential tribunal claims, employers should consider how they treat vegan employees and remain mindful of their needs at work.
As a vegan diet only contains plants and food made from plants, employers should pay close attention to any food they provide in the workplace, ensuring there are always vegan options available. While it wouldn’t be appropriate to ban other employees from consuming animal products near vegan staff, individuals must not be allowed to use this as an excuse to taunt or harass vegans in the workplace.
Forcing vegan employees to wear items of clothing made from animal products, such as leather shoes or belts, could also cause unnecessary distress. Therefore, employers should consider relaxing dress codes where necessary for vegan employees, or better yet, adjusting the requirements where possible so that all employees are treated the same.
Employers should be mindful that poor management of this situation could result in highly-valued employees becoming disillusioned in their roles, leading to a drop in morale and overall productivity. In more extreme cases, failing to prevent a problematic environment for vegans at work could result in highly skilled staff seeking more favourable employment elsewhere. Therefore, it pays to be considerate in more ways than one.
As a general rule employers should always look to create a respectful and supporting environment at work and ensure that no employee suffers unfavourable treatment, regardless of whether they possess a protected characteristic or not. By following this approach, employers will prevent the likelihood of any issues occurring relating to veganism and help cultivate a harmonious workplace.