Nearly half of vegan employees in the UK feel discriminated against by their employer, according to a new survey of workplace attitudes towards veganism.
Research by Crossland Employment Solicitors revealed two in five (45 per cent) felt discriminated against, while nearly a third (31 per cent) have felt harassed at work or unfairly treated due to their veganism.
It also said 71 per cent of bosses held the opinion that vegans “should just focus on their work”, and some vegans surveyed said they had been specifically told not to discuss their lifestyle with co-workers or customers.
The research surveyed 1,000 vegan employees and 1,000 bosses – which included CEOs, managing directors and company owners – about their experiences of being vegan and their opinion on vegans in the workplace.
A majority of the leaders (94 per cent) said it was wrong for vegans to push their beliefs onto others in the office, while 13 per cent said such behaviour could be distracting to other employees.
Beverley Sunderland, managing director of Crossland Employment Solicitors, said the research showed prejudiced attitudes towards vegan workers were “endemic” among British employers, as well as demonstrating a lack of understanding of the Equality Act 2010.
“Veganism is likely to be covered [by the Equality Act] if a vegan has a genuinely held belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint,” Sunderland said. That belief, she pointed out, must be “cogent, serious and apply in an important aspect of human life or behaviour and be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not affect other people’s fundamental rights”.
While 63 per cent of bosses thought their vegan employees were “genuine” in wanting to address concerns around animal welfare or the environment, a quarter (24 per cent) believed employees who became vegan had done so because it was fashionable, to lose weight or to look good.
The research also found three-quarters (74 per cent) of leaders did not realise that philosophical beliefs were protected under the Equality Act and half (48 per cent) said they did nothing to accommodate vegan requirements at work, including catering or offering vegan office equipment, such as leather-free chairs, wool-free uniforms or toiletries that are not tested on animals.
Among employers who did accomodate for vegans, nearly a third (32 per cent) told the researchers it was costly or difficult to do so, and 21 per cent said it was “risky” to accommodate vegans in case they “get it wrong”.
Case law has already found that belief in man-made climate change is a philosophical belief – which means it falls under the Equality Act – and an employment tribunal set to be heard later this year could see veganism fall into the same category.
Jordi Casamitjana, who was dismissed from his role as head of policy and research at the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), has claimed his dismissal amounted to discriminated against him because he was a vegan. Casamitjana, who described himself as an “ethical vegan”, said he was dismissed for disclosing LACS was investing its pension funds into firms involved in animal testing.
LACS said Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct, and said to link his dismissal with issues pertaining to veganism was “factually wrong”.
Dr Jeanette Rowley, the Vegan Society’s vegan rights adviser, told People Management that because many vegans held deep convictions that met the criteria of a philosophical belief, employers should ensure they do everything they can to avoid both direct and indirect discrimination against vegan employees.
“One simple measure that employers can take is to add ‘vegan’ to the list of denominations on equality monitoring forms so that vegans have the choice to participate in the collection of demographic data,” Rowley said.
Rowley added veganism was an “excellent example” of a protected non-religious philosophical belief. As such, organisations’ equality and diversity guides should state the measures put in place for vegan employees in the same way they take religious beliefs into account.
Paul Holcroft, associate director at Croner, said the research highlighted that certain sections of the workforce were being targeted or harassed because of their beliefs, regardless of whether they were currently protected by discrimination legislation.
“While personal conversations are likely to crop up at work, remind your staff about appropriate communication and the need to avoid making colleagues feel picked on or segregated,” Holcroft said. “Employers can create a more accepting environment for vegans by ensuring they take their requirements into consideration in matters such as catering and uniforms, as they would for others such as vegetarians.”