Vegans want to change the workplace … and it all starts in the kitchen

PUBLISHED: Wed, 26 Feb 2020 16:08:01 GMT

As veganism grows in popularity around the world, there is increasing pressure for employers to catch up and make the workplace more inclusive.

Measures proposed by the U.K. charity The Vegan Society include dedicated vegan shelves in office fridges, as well as color-coded equipment and separate food preparation areas.

The number of vegans in the U.K. alone quadrupled between 2014 and 2019, growing from 150,000 to 600,000 people, according to the charity. Meanwhile, global internet searches for “veganism” have more than doubled in the past five years, according to Google Trends data, and the term is now seeing around three times the interest of “vegetarianism.”

Vegans don’t consume animal products and the subsequent shift towards plant-based diets led The Vegan Society to last week publish tips for employers on how they can create a more inclusive work environment for vegan employees.

This was in light of recent changes to U.K. anti-discrimination law which now protects “ethical veganism” — people who not only follow a plant-based diet but also avoid any products using, or tested on, animals.

The charity said employers should consider the following:

  • Sending out a dietary requirements sheet to staff for catered events.
  • Keeping kitchen utensils clean, providing color-coded equipment and separate food preparation areas.
  • Offering dedicated food storage areas for vegan, such as shelves in the fridge.
  • Ensuring access to vegan-friendly clothing, such as synthetic safety boots or a non-leather phone case.
  • Exempting vegans from attending corporate events such as horse racing, or others which revolve around animal products, such as a “hog roast” BBQ.
  • Considering exempting vegans from participating in the buying (or signing off on the purchase) of non-vegan products.
  • Supporting vegan employees to discuss their pension investment options with a relevant member of staff.
  • Creating a positive and respectful atmosphere towards vegan employees, for example by being mindful of “jokes” which could be deemed offensive.
  • Training staff on anti-discrimination law, highlighting to them that veganism is an example of a non-religious belief protected under this legislation.
  • Reassuring vegan employees that they should not feel anxious about raising complaints and that they will be taken seriously if they do so.
  • Taking prompt action on unfair treatment of, or complaints from, vegans.
  • Seeing how vegans can contribute to workplace policies and practices.

Equality law and veganism

In January, an employment tribunal in the U.K. confirmed that ethical veganism is a belief that is protected within the scope of the 2010 Equality Act.

This is the U.K. law which says it is illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of age, disability, gender and religion, among other protected characteristics.

The inclusion of ethical veganism within the remit of this law came after an employment tribunal ruled in favor of Jordi Casamitjana, who alleged he was fired from his job at the League Against Cruel Sports for his beliefs. Casamitjana claimed he was fired for telling colleagues that the League’s pension fund was invested in companies involved in animal testing.

Matt Turner, a spokesman for The Vegan Society, said the protections for ethical vegans in the U.K. are “long overdue.”

“As momentum in the U.K. continues to grow, it’s imperative that employers ensure that the ever-increasing number of ethical vegans are protected and catered for in the workplace,” he said.

Eric Brent, CEO of California-based online vegan and vegetarian restaurant directory HappyCow, said he believed the same legal protections should apply to vegans in the U.S.

He argued that vegans should be included on the list of people protected under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) laws, which protect workers in the U.S. against workplace discrimination.

The EEOC, meanwhile, told CNBC via email that veganism could sometimes be considered a religious practice and be protected under its laws.

For example, in 2012, a federal district court ruled in favor of a woman who filed a lawsuit over her dismissal from a hospital. The woman refused to get a flu vaccination which she said went against her veganism and she used biblical extracts as the basis for arguing her beliefs.

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