Q. I am really struggling at work because I am a vegan and I feel my belief in this way of life is being undermined by my work colleagues who are constantly making fun of me. They claim they are just making jokes to tease me and I should ‘lighten up’. They cannot see that their ‘joking’ is hurtful and in fact is now making me ill.
Some mornings I am so stressed at the thought of going in to work and having to face their taunts that I just can’t go. I don’t make fun of them because they are NOT vegan! It’s so unfair. Now it’s got so bad that my GP has prescribed anti-depressants for me. On top of that, the more I am off work, the less chance I have of a promotion. They are ruining my life!
A. Responsible employers should take action to prevent hurtful jokes/teasing, especially where it results in staff becoming ill. In terms of legal action, veganism may amount to a philosophical belief that would qualify as a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010. This question is being considered in an ongoing case and the law is not yet clear.
If veganism does amount to a protected characteristic it would be unlawful for an employer (or its staff) to harass or victimise that employee on the grounds of their vegan belief. It would be unlawful to treat a vegan employee less favourably than others because of their belief, for instance by overlooking them for promotion. This would also be the case where employers unjustifiably apply a particular requirement that disadvantages vegan employees.
An employer who acts unlawfully may find themselves being ordered to pay potentially unlimited damages to an affected employee. You need to consult your trade union or arrange a fixed fee consultation with your local employment lawyer to consider your options.