Employment Bulletin – November 2019

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Vegetarianism ‘not a protected belief’ under the Equality Act

Vegetarianism is a “lifestyle choice” and not a philosophical belief capable of protection under equality legislation, the Employment Tribunal has ruled.

The landmark judgment came in a case involving a waiter who worked for a hotel from April 2018 until his resignation in August the same year.

He claimed he had been a victim of discrimination, arguing that his “genuine belief” in his vegetarianism amounted to a protected characteristic.

However, the tribunal heard evidence that while the employee had been reprimanded for wearing an un-ironed shirt and may have been shouted out in front of customers, there was no instance of any bullying because of his vegetarianism.

The Employment Judge the dismissed the case. He said that vegetarianism did not qualify for protection under the Equality Act because there were numerous reasons other than conscientious belief why people might not eat meat, including personal taste, lifestyle or health or concerns about the way animals were reared.

However, he did warn that vegans could be considered differently as there was a “clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief” as all vegans shunned meat, fish and dairy products because they believed it to be “contrary to a civilised society and against climate control”.

Whether ‘ethical’ veganism should be regarded as a philosophical belief and therefore receive the status of protected characteristic under the law has not been tested in a tribunal or court.

 

Police officer suffered ‘sex discrimination’ over colour blindness

A police officer faced indirect sex discrimination after being removed from driving duties due to colour blindness, the Employment Tribunal has ruled.

The officer joined the police in 1993, and throughout his career he worked in several uniformed positions. He later became an authorised firearms officer and part of the rapid response driving team.

In 2016, a police occupational health adviser discovered he had a condition that meant he struggled to differentiate between red and green objects. This condition affects around 5% of men, but only 0.35% of women.

He was told he must pass one of two additional tests for colour vision deficiency.

He passed one test but not the other. In March 2017, the police issued new guidance around eyesight standards for colour deficiency, and the officer was taken off the firearms team.

He was also removed from the rapid response driving team, despite there being no investigation into how his condition affected his ability to complete his duties in the role.

He took legal action against the service, claiming he was a victim of sex discrimination as his condition was more likely to affect men than women.

In the meantime, a meeting between senior officers resulted in the officer being returned to firearms duties after his tests showed he met the current standard for the team.

He spent time retraining and underwent more medical examinations and was returned to both teams.

The Employment Tribunal ruled he had been indirectly discriminated against when he was temporarily taken off the rapid response driving team but not the firearms team.

While there had been a sufficient level of investigation into how his condition would affect his ability to carry out his firearms duties, this had not been the case for his rapid response duties.

He was not awarded compensation as he had been reinstated on to both teams.

 

Staffing manager unfairly dismissed for ‘pointing out problems’

A logistics manager at a transport company was unfairly dismissed after he raised concerns about the lawfulness of the company’s staffing rotas and was then made redundant.

The employee’s duties were to manage the control room, look after the vehicle fleet, resolve some operational issues and improve performance.

He quickly became concerned about the lack of staff available to cover the workload, and their level of knowledge of the regulatory environment in which they were operating.

The employee emailed one of the operational managers, copying in the firm’s HR manager and its then-CEO. He asserted that the current shift arrangements were “not possible” as staff would not have adequate rest breaks. He was concerned this would potentially place the company in breach of the working time regulations.

The court heard that the CEO had instructed the employee to inform a client that the business had enough staff available to cover an assignment when this was not the case. He said he told the CEO “I do not work like this.”

During the subsequent month, the employee made further inquiries and comments concerning the number of staff on shifts and the length of rest breaks.

After his staff numbers were reduced, the employee told his superiors: “In further cutting [the control room] establishment and with the numbers suggested, I do not believe I can meet the control room objectives set… or provide the service required to our staff and clients.”

A few months later the employee was made redundant, which he unsuccessfully appealed.

He brought a claim for unfair dismissal under the Employment Rights Act, as he had made protected disclosures about chronic staffing and operational problems within the business.

The tribunal found that out of the nine complaints made during the employee’s employment, two were in the public interest and one was a protected disclosure.

The tribunal said that the compensation would be determined at a separate hearing.