Veganuary - what are my legal obligations as an employer?

Veganuary is the worldwide awareness month for those following a vegan based diet and lifestyle, which takes place in January each year. Veganuary encourages and supports people and businesses alike to move to a plant-based diet as a way of protecting the environment, preventing animal suffering and improving the health of millions of people. In 2019, over 250,000 people pledged to try a vegan diet for the month of January.

You may have team members looking to take part in Veganuary this year, and possibly your office is pledging together to encourage one another for the month.

For those of you who are employers or business owners, you may be wondering where veganism sits in regard to employment law…

  • Are you legally required to offer vegan alternatives in the office?

  • Is veganism a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010?

  • Do I need to make my office vegan-friendly?

We’ve answered some of the key questions here and offered advice on how to incorporate veganism into your workplace.

I provide dairy milk to my staff for teas and coffees. Am I legally required to offer a vegan alternative?

It’s great that you provide refreshments to your staff at work. There isn’t a legal requirement for you to provide a vegan milk alternative, such as almond milk, however it is worth asking your teams if alternative milks would be welcomed.

Many people have intolerances to dairy and would benefit from a non-dairy alternative becoming available. Why not run a quick survey of staff dietary requirements and adjust the milk to provide to be in line with demand? Don’t forget to consider the needs of clients if they regularly visit your office.

Perhaps during Veganuary, the office can try non-dairy alternatives to see if this could be suitable for everyone to enjoy?

Is veganism a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act 2010?

Currently being a Vegan is not listed as a protected characteristic. Interestingly, however, there is an employment tribunal case due to be heard to determine whether veganism can be classed as a Belief and therefore covered under that aspect of the Equality Act. If it is found to be a philosophical belief then, in certain circumstances, Vegans may be protected against discrimination and other unfavourable treatments listed under the Act.

Currently the Equality Act defines ‘religion or belief’ as one of the nine protected characteristics. This means it is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee less favourably due to their religion, or to tell them to act in a way that goes against their beliefs. The uncertainty lies in whether veganism falls under the classification of ‘region or belief’.

Naturally we will report on the outcome of the case and any changes to employment law which follow as a result.

Do I need to make my office vegan-friendly?

Firstly, it’s important to remember that veganism goes beyond simply following a plant-based diet. Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products therefore becoming vegan-friendly could impact areas such as work uniforms (materials they are made from), cleaning products (including soaps), even office furniture (no leather chairs).

It’s important to evaluate where veganism sits as a corporate value for your business – if it is of strong importance then the movement to create a vegan-friendly workplace will be a natural development.

If it’s less important but you want to show support and willing to staff who are vegan, then you may need to weigh up the cost of such changes and how this could impact your business costs.

Engage with your teams and work together!

It’s clear that veganism will continue to grow in popularity. If you want to support team members who choose to follow vegan beliefs, our key advice is to talk to them to find out how they would like to support them.

It may be that simple, cost effective changes will delight them, or even just the acknowledgement that they have different dietary needs! Veganuary itself may be a great team building or engagement exercise to kick start the New Year with.

Top tips for taking part in Veganuary!

Our HR administrator Emma has shared her top tips for those who would like to try Veganuary this year.

  1. Shop around – So many supermarkets are catering for the vegan lifestyle now so there are lots of things to try!

  2. Social Media – Facebook groups and Instagram pages are great for discovering all the new products or ‘accidentally vegan’ food (like Oreos!)

  3. Small changes – If the thought of going 100% plant based is too overwhelming then making small changes is a great start like meat free Monday or a vegan cheese alternative for your jacket potato.

Thanks for those tips Emma!

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