· News

Prejudice towards vegans endemic in the workplace

Almost half (45%) of vegan employees feel they have been discriminated against, according to Crossland Employment Solicitors

Its research, which surveyed 1,000 vegan employees and 1,000 employers, found that nearly a third (31%) of vegan employees have felt harassed at work or unfairly treated because of their veganism. This figure rose to 36% among Millennials.

The survey found that 3% of bosses wouldn’t hire someone if they knew they were vegan, which researchers said is likely to be contrary to the Equality Act 2010. Almost three-quarters (74%) of employers did not realise that under the Equality Act ‘philosophical beliefs’, which are likely to include veganism, are a protected characteristic in employment law.

Less than a fifth (18%) of employees said their staff café offers vegan options, with some saying they “feel pressured to fit in with limited menu choices at work functions". Almost all (96%) said they have to sit on leather furniture at work, 86% have to wash their hands with soap that is tested on animals, and just 6% are provided with a vegan uniform free from leather and wool.

When asked how they treat vegans, nearly half (48%) of employers admitted they don’t do anything to accommodate them, such as providing vegan food in the canteen or supplying cruelty-free toiletries. Of the employers who do accommodate vegans, 32% said it’s costly or can be difficult to cater for them and 21% said it’s risky in case they get it wrong.

The study found differences between the treatment of vegetarian and vegan employees, with 78% of employers saying they do cater for vegetarians.

It also found that nearly a quarter (24%) of employers believed that most of their employees or friends who have chosen to be vegan as a lifestyle choice have done so because it’s fashionable, to help them to lose weight or to look good. Almost all (94%) employers said it is wrong for vegans to push their beliefs onto others in the office, 71% said they should just focus on their work, and 13% said such behaviour can be distracting to other employees.

The research follows an instance at the beginning of this year in which a NatWest employee became subject to disciplinary proceedings after telling a customer who had applied for a loan for a nutrition diploma that 'vegans should be punched in the face'. The survey uncovered widespread misunderstanding among employers about what to do if an employee expresses such negative opinions about vegan beliefs in the office or to a customer.

More than half (51%) said a belligerent employee should be dismissed, while 44% said an informal warning is enough. Such comments put the employer and an employee causing offence at risk of a potential harassment claim because of philosophical belief, and a formal disciplinary procedure would normally follow, the research noted.

Beverley Sunderland, managing director at Crossland Employment Solicitors, commented that the research revealed a lack of understanding about veganism.

“Our research shows that prejudiced attitudes towards vegan workers are endemic among British employers and a lack of understanding as to the potential impact of the Equality Act 2010. Veganism is likely to be covered if a vegan has a genuinely-held belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint. That belief must be ‘cogent, serious and applies to 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'," she said.

Employers must take these concerns seriously, Sunderland added, particularly as there is a chance the law will change: “[...] case law has already decided that belief in man-made climate change is a philosophical belief and there is little doubt that veganism will be considered also when it comes before the tribunal later this year, in the case Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports. We’d advise that employers need to be taking such beliefs seriously and acting against those who are derogatory about vegans. After all, if an employee was mocking someone’s religion, their sex or their race an employer would not hesitate to take serious action.”