Vegan-Friendly Workplaces

The Vegan Society has recently published a series of guidelines for employers to make sure their policies give due regard to the needs of vegan employees.

This is in response to a tribunal in January which ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010. The ruling states that ethical vegans are entitled to protections in the working environment in line with those who hold religious beliefs.

What is veganism?

Veganism is a practice which rejects the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. The lifestyle also promotes the development and use of sustainable animal-free alternatives that are beneficial for the environment. There are approximately 600,000 vegans in the UK, and it has become increasingly popular over the last few years with many people switching to a meat-free diet.  Despite the increase, the understanding of veganism still carries a lot of misconceptions, which means that vegans sometimes have to justify their choices – even in the workplace.

Considerations

Under the Equality Act, employers must ensure that they do everything they can to avoid discrimination against vegan employees, whether directly or indirectly. A review of existing policies is recommended to examine and address areas of concern, such as recruitment procedures and general staff training. The Vegan Society also advises businesses to exempt vegan employees from corporate events that go against their beliefs, such as horse racing or a “hog roast” barbeque.

Other considerations listed by the charity suggests kitchen facilities should be adjusted to suit dietary needs, including separate food preparation areas and a separate shelf in the fridge away from non-vegan products as well as supplying non-leather phone cases and a chance for staff to have vegan-friendly pension options. Larger companies that offer catering might also consider providing vegan and vegetarian options in their menu, as well as assessing how the food is prepared at separate stations so as not to come into contact with non-vegan ingredients.

Trivial or Significant?

These guidelines are not intended as giving vegan employees ‘special treatment’. Rather, the intention is to open up opportunities for better understanding and acceptance among all employees. A separate shelf in the fridge should not be seen as trivial but should instead highlight to employers how they can meet the needs of individual members of staff for a variety of reasons.

For example, staff should already be knowledgeable on the need to not cross-contaminate food for hygiene reasons, as well as being flexible in accommodating staff with dietary needs for health reasons (coeliac disease, for example, which affects 1 in 100 people in the UK). Staff should be allowed the freedom of choice in the workplace, but they should also be sufficiently informed so as not to cause unintentional harm to others.  

If an employee faces harassment based on their gender, age, or religious beliefs, they have the right to raise a complaint and be taken seriously if they do so. Likewise, if a member of staff feels that constant jokes about being a vegan is bordering on harassment, then they should be allowed the same amount of support. As the charity states:

“An employer has a duty to ensure that all employees behave respectfully and courteously towards each other and vegans should also benefit from this […] 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.”

The full guide from the Vegan Society can be found here: https://www.vegansociety.com/sites/default/files/uploads/downloads/TVS%20Employer%20Booklet.pdf

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Prior to this, she worked in a photography studio as a wedding album editor and also attended work experience at a local library.

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