The Vegan Society has issued a guide for employers entitled Supporting Veganism in the Workplace. These suggested guidelines should help employers cater for the ever-increasing numbers of vegans in the workplace. This is especially important in the aftermath of the landmark ruling in an employment tribunal case which found that “ethical veganism” was indeed a “philosophical belief” and therefore a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010.
The booklet covers a range of issues to help foster an inclusive and reassuring workplace environment. One recommendation is to designate dedicated food storage areas for vegans, such as a shelf in the fridge above non-vegan foods. Kitchen facilities should be acceptable for vegans to use with, for example, colour-coded equipment and separate food preparation areas where possible.
If the workplace requires specific clothing to be worn, employers should ensure that vegans have access to vegan-friendly clothing. Non-leather substitutes for boots and phone cases should be provided where necessary.
Another recommendation is for employers to send out a ‘dietary requirements’ sheet for catered events, so as to ensure that vegans have the chance to request appropriate food is provided for them. This is just plain common sense and I doubt that many caring employers would do otherwise.
Vegans should be exempt from team-building events such as a hog-roast barbecue
The guidelines are a little more forthright when it comes to certain types of corporate bonding events that were probably commonplace in years gone by without a second’s thought about people’s sensitivities. The Society suggests that vegans should be exempted from attending corporate and team building events which include horse racing and which might revolve around animals – a ‘hog roast’ barbeque for example.
Employers are also encouraged to support vegan employees in discussing their pension investment options. This point is actually the issue that led to the case being brought by the employee which led to the landmark legal ruling. The fact that the defendant was the League Against Cruel Sports was somewhat poignant.
As a qualifying non-religious, philosophical belief under the Equality Act, veganism must be treated seriously. It has been accepted under law that veganism is a “weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour” which is a belief, as opposed to mere opinion or a viewpoint. If genuinely held, it attains “a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” which is worthy of respect in a democratic society.
The Society is encouraging employers to include veganism within the ambit of any of Equality and Diversity policies.
Creating a positive atmosphere
The key according to the Society. is to foster a general attitude of respect towards vegan employees. This is of course inevitably brings up the question of jokes. Some vegan jokes can be very funny, but alas most are rather wearisome after a while. If so-called jokes do actually become burdensome then the issue of harassment could become a very real consideration under the legislation. Employers should consider what type of conversations would be appropriate and what would be offensive in respect of other individuals with protected characteristics, such as certain religious views. Similar considerations should apply to deal with vegan employees.
“An employer has a duty to ensure that all employees behave respectfully and courteously towards each other and vegans should also benefit from this,” the Society states.
“If this duty is not extended to vegan employees, claims of unlawful harassment related to a protected belief will be taken seriously in employment tribunals.”
Employers will do well to remember that ethical vegans don’t just avoid eating or using animal products. They actively try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle. This needs to become embedded in the understanding of corporate Britain.