Can employers force veganism on employees?

There has been a recent interesting debate about whether an employer can require an employee to follow a vegan diet whilst at work. This came about when a recent job applicant posted an email they had received from a potential employer onto social media channels. In the email, the employer had advised the potential employee that in order to be a successful candidate for the job they would have to follow a strict vegan diet whilst at work. This included only bringing vegan food to work or else they would be forced to leave the employer’s premises to have their lunch. The employer allowed candidates to be non-vegan at home, but veganism in the workplace was a strict requirement for the job. This requirement did not appear in the job advert itself. This has caused a great amount of debate and raises the interesting question of whether the employer is within their rights to have these requirements.

What is the legal position?

Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of any animal product, particularly in your diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.  However, there is an important legal distinction between dietary veganism and ethical veganism, which changes how a vegan can be treated under the law.

As a starting point, the Equality Act places a legal obligation on employers not to directly or indirectly discriminate against an employee because of a protected characteristic, which includes religious or philosophical belief. Whether veganism can amount to a religious or philosophical belief has been a subject of debate for several years.

The law says that a philosophical belief is a belief that must be:

  • Genuinely held
  • Relate to a substantial aspect of human life
  • Attain a certain level of importance
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society; and
  • Be a real belief and not just an opinion.

In January 2020. the Employment Tribunal held that ethical veganism is classified as a philosophical belief and is therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. However, ethical veganism is different to dietary veganism, which would be limited to following a plant-based diet. Ethical vegans try to exclude all forms of animal cruelty or exploitation and as such the belief goes much further than limiting what they eat, and instead it impacts their life much more widely. For example, an ethical vegan would avoid products such as leather, silk and wool which come from animals and all products that have been tested on animals (with an exception being made for medicines and vaccines). Therefore, if an employer treats someone less favourably due to their ethical veganism, or chose not to employ ethical vegans at all, they could leave themselves open to discrimination claims.

Can an employee be discriminated against for not being an ethical vegan? 

In the 2019 case of Gan Menachem Hendon v De Groen, Ms De Groen was a Jewish teacher working in an ultra-orthodox nursery. The nursery dismissed her after discovering that she was cohabiting with her boyfriend (to whom she was not married) and she refused to lie or conceal that fact from nursery staff or parents of children at the nursery.  The nursery was concerned that this would create an untenable situation with the nursery parents and so terminated her employment. Ms De Groen argued in the Employment Tribunal (amongst other claims) that the nursery had effectively dismissed her because she did not share their religious beliefs (which prohibited unmarried couples from living together).

The Employment Appeal Tribunal, applying the law as clarified by the Supreme Court guidance in Lee v Ashers 2018, held that Ms De Groen’s claims that the nursery had directly discriminated against her, by not being an Orthodox Jew, could not succeed. They went on to say in their judgment, that the purpose of discrimination law is to protect someone who has a protected characteristic from being treated less favourably, not to protect someone who doesn’t have that characteristic.

In light of the case above it would not typically be discriminatory, on the basis of an ethical or religious belief, for an employer to enforce veganism at work for all employees even those who do not practise veganism outside of work. However, if an employee’s belief in eating meat could be found to satisfy the legal test of a “philosophical belief”, it is possible (albeit unlikely) that this could then be a protected characteristic under the Act and the position would be different, or if an employee had a medical condition that could amount to a disability that required them to follow a non-vegan diet, the employer could be discriminating against them by enforcing veganism during working hours. Outside of these exceptions, the employer may well be free to set out the kind of rules seen in this example.

Discrimination in the workplace is a complex area of law, and therefore, if you require any advice on the processes and procedures your organisation currently has in place, please get in touch with our Employment Team at who will be happy to assist.

Alex Harper
Senior Solicitor, Employment
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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