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Is a philosophical belief capable of protection by the Equality Act 2010?

In a month that hasn’t seen a huge amount of significant employment case law, there have been two Employment Tribunal decisions that may shed a bit of light on the question of what amounts to a philosophical belief capable of protection by the Equality Act 2010.

In Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd. & Others, Mr Conisbee resigned after 5 months service alleging that he had been discriminated against on the grounds of his passionate belief in vegetarianism and that the world would be a better place if we didn’t kill animals for food.

 It was for the Employment Tribunal to decide whether that belief amounted to a philosophical belief from which he would be protected against discrimination. The test for this is set out in another case -Grainger Plc v Nicholson.

Whilst the Tribunal found that Mr Conisbee’s belief passed some parts of the Grainger test, it decided that it didn’t pass all of them. It was found not to concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life – it was just a lifestyle choice  and it didn’t attain the level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance required because people’s reasons for becoming vegetarian differ widely (health, environmental concerns, diet etc). It also wasn’t found to have a similar status to a religious belief.

Interestingly, the Tribunal felt that veganism could potentially pass the test in Grainger as the view was that peoples’ reasons for being vegan appear to be mainly the same and there is therefore a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief. This seems somewhat surprising but the proof will be in the (vegan) pudding as a decision on this very point is expected shortly so it will be interesting to see how a different Tribunal decides.

In McEleny v Ministry of Defence, the beliefs in question were in Scottish Independence and the social democratic values of the Scottish National Party. In this case, the Tribunal found that the belief in the values of the SNP was political rather than philosophical in nature and very much open to debate so they didn’t attract protection under the Equality Act. However, the belief in Scottish Independence passed the test set out in Grainger. It was felt to be a genuinely held belief and not simply an opinion. What’s more, it referred to fundamental issues as to how people in Scotland live their lives and how they are governed and attains the level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance required.

It’s interesting to see how the respective Tribunals approached these questions but at the end of the day, they’re both only Employment Tribunal decisions so not binding on any other Tribunals.

Posted on 6 November, 2019 by Ortolan

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