Currently experiencing problems?
The Vegan Society is here to help you exercise your right to live a compassionate lifestyle. We have a number of resources and a dedicated ‘rights’ service to support and advocate for individual vegans in need of assistance.
On this page you will find information about speaking up for yourself, common challenges and solutions, education, dealing with unfairness in the workplace and information about The Vegan Society’s advocacy service. Guidance on this page refers to legal provisions in the United Kingdom and Great Britain.
Speaking up for yourself
There’s so much you can do to advocate for yourself. The Vegan Society provides extensive resources to give you the confidence to speak up. If you know you’re going to hospital, starting a new job, or changing schools; find an appropriate time to tell your doctor, employer, or teacher that you’re vegan. Remind them that offering good plant-based food can help them meet their legal duties, professional standards, environmental sustainability, best practice and good customer service. You can find template letters in our Catering for Everyone section.
By speaking up for yourself if you encounter problems, you are also helping the next vegan who comes along. You also help the Vegan Society’s International Rights team by giving them more time to deal with more difficult cases. Useful strategies include:
- Talk to other vegans through The Vegan Society networks, on social media or using local notice boards. Chances are you’ll find someone who has encountered and overcame similar problems. Ask them for tips and ideas for dealing with specific situations.
- Remind service providers that good vegan-friendly options are suitable for almost anyone (including those with special requirements due to religious beliefs); therefore, catering for vegans can give them a great competitive edge.
- If you feel unfairly treated or discriminated against, reference the legal protection of vegans in your letters of complaint. The basic facts are that:
- Vegans are protected under the Equality Act 2010, under the ‘protected characteristic’ ‘religion or belief’.
- The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty not to discriminate, on both the public and private sector.
- The public sector is under a legal duty to assess policies and practices with a view to removing disadvantages faced by those with protected characteristics.
- There is no justification for direct discrimination.
- Indirect discrimination is only lawful if, following careful consideration, discrimination cannot be avoided, and is a proportional way to achieve a legitimate aim.
- Harassment is a broad term that covers written and spoken words, including posts on social media, images and gestures.
- You must not be treated badly just because you raised an issue relating to your equality rights. This could amount to victimisation under equality measures.
- Under the Human Rights Act 1998, a public authority must not act in a way that contravenes your right to practice veganism. Interference with a vegan’s practice will only be lawful if it is proven that it is a proportional means of achieving a legitimate aim.
As you grow in knowledge and experience, you'll find you:
- Become more confident and challenges become more manageable
- Will speak more confidently when you have to advocate for yourself.
At a glance: challenges and solutions
- My child's school does not cater for vegans – If you are making a request for vegan food at school, ensure you point out that vegans are protected under the Equality Act 2010, that the school is subject to the Pubic Sector Equality Duty and that vegans can be protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.
- I'm worried I won't have anything vegan to eat in hospital - If you are awaiting a hospital admission, try to speak to both the Hospital Registered Dietitian and Catering Manager at least two weeks before, or as soon as possible upon arrival.
- I'm being ordered to use / wear non-vegan items by an authority - You have the right to request vegan-friendly alternatives, and the authority has a duty to make reasonable provisions for your beliefs. Don't forget that the Human Rights Act applies to vegans in relationships with public authorities.
- I'm being legally detained and denied my vegan needs - Public institutions have a duty to respect the rights of vegans. Institutions that oversee minors or adult populations, also have a duty of care to ensure everyone under their supervision has access to belief-appropriate nutritious food. Don’t forget that the Human Rights Act also applies to vegans in relationships with public authorities.
- I've bought a product that contains fur/wool/silk and it wasn't labelled - Animal products in clothing must be labelled in the EU. If you're in the UK, find out more from the British Standards Institute (0845 086 9001), complain to Citizens Advice or get your complaint referred to Trading Standards, who have powers to enforce the rules. If not from the UK, check the law for your state of residence, and follow similar procedures.
- I need to know more about vegan food and allergen labelling: Read the Food and Drink Federation guidance sheet.
- I need to know more about food cross-contamination: Read our guide on the provision of vegan food and cross-contamination.
Vegans in education
We appreciate the variety of issues faced by vegans in education. You can find support using our education resources. We also offer support with complaints through our ‘rights’ service (knowyourrights[at]vegansociety[dot]com). To strengthen our work, we have partnered with Vegan Inclusive Education which offers information and support to all parents, pupils, and school staff in its work to make sure that vegans pupils are fully included, with suitable school meals, education, and protection from harm.
Veganism and unfairness in the workplace
Vegans in the workplace are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. Make sure you are familiar with your rights and your employer’s duties. You can also read our guide about employer legal obligations.
Employers are under a duty to ensure that the workplace is fair and harmonious for everyone, and must deal appropriately with all complaints from individuals who feel unfairly treated or discriminated against. The public sector must therefore consider the equality duty.
There are different types of discrimination and they are not always easy to spot:
- Direct discrimination refers to a situation in which someone has been treated worse than other people simply because they are vegan. For example, a vegan is excluded from a client-related project because the manager assumes the vegan will not approve of the client’s business and deliver poor quality service.
- Indirect discrimination can happen when a policy or practice which applies to everyone, and is assumed to be neutral, has a negative effect on vegans.
- Harassment is the term used to allege that someone has treated you in a way that violates your dignity, or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. This can happen in a variety of ways including words spoken or written, images, gestures, jokes and posts on social media.
- Victimisation is when you are treated unfairly because you are raising a matter under the Equality Act 2010. For example, a vegan makes a claim of discrimination and as a result they are treated worse, including being excluded or dismissed.
Vegan employees cannot be prevented from discussing veganism in the workplace but must not cause harassment or impose their views on others nor abuse a position of power. The employer can impose reasonable limits on proselytising if the workplace environment is uncomfortable, but any measures implemented must be fair.
Employers must make a clear commitment to anti-discrimination law, implement, if necessary, new policies in your workplace and explain what they mean to other members of staff through training. There should already be a complaints procedure in place, including arrangements for dealing with discrimination if it arises. Read more on the guidance issued by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission and information from ACAS.
Workplace ‘banter’ an example of possible harassment under the Equality Act 2010
You're being teased at work - but where do you draw the line?
- The line between teasing and harassment is quite thin. Much depends on the workplace, the individuals, their interpretations and their perceptions: what is banter to one person might be deeply offensive to another.
What do you do when banter becomes offensive? Is it ever OK to tease someone for something they believe in?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission explains that harassment can include:
- a serious one-off incident
- repeated behaviour
- spoken or written words, imagery, graffiti, gestures, mimicry, jokes, pranks, physical behaviour that affects the person
If you are having problems at work because of your belief in veganism, or your commitment to vegan living, then this could be considered harassment in the eyes of the law and is most definitely not OK.
Developing understanding about veganism in the workplace
Make sure your employer’s HR department, line managers and team leaders have copies of The Vegan Society’s Employer Guide.
Tell your colleagues that certain ‘jokes’ can go too far and may be unlawful.
- Very often, people don’t realise that their comments are hurtful or intimidating. If they knew how much being vegan matters to you, or how strongly you hold veganism as a belief, they might tone it down.
Teach others what you know about veganism.
- Have answers prepared for frequently asked questions. Educate your colleagues about why you are vegan, what veganism is, and how it changed your life, in a positive way.
Bring in some vegan goodies to share around.
- Show your colleagues that vegan-friendly food can be both delicious and satisfying.
Try to keep calm in difficult situations.
- If someone is teasing you, it’s usually because they want you to rise to it. Try not to let yourself get wound up, though often that’s challenging. Offer to talk privately at another time if they actually want to know more. Take a breather outside, talk to a sympathetic colleague or perhaps phone a friend. Remember, it is OK to feel angry; try to use your anger in a positive way rather than letting the emotion get the better of you.
Practice some key responses.
- Sometimes, some people will learn to respect you if you feel safe and able to stand up for what you believe in. If you can practice some key responses, you may find it gets easier to communicate assertively. It is also OK to decide that you do not feel safe or able to respond, and walk away from the confrontation too.
Remember that everyone is different.
- What will help one person understand your vegan beliefs may not work with another. Finding the right approach with each of your colleagues might take a little time.
When to take things further
If you start to dread going in to work because of the way you are being treated by others, it may be time to seek assistance and support.
- Talk to your team leader or line manager about how you feel and what can be done to help you feel better.
- Talk to the nominated Equality and Diversity Officer. If relevant follow your company’s bullying and harassment procedures, and make sure your company follows them too. If it doesn’t, you can raise a formal grievance.
- If you intend to raise a formal grievance, keep a timeline of events in the form of a detailed diary of each and every incident, including all emails and social media comments (if applicable). This will be needed as evidence.
- If you’re in a union, let your representative know what’s going on, and consider joining one if you currently are not.
If things have got this far at work and you have not already done so, now is the time to contact The Vegan Society’s vegan rights service for guidance and support. We can help you write your grievance letter and support you through what might be a difficult and stressful process. Contact us at knowyourrights[at]vegansociety[dot]com
Seek legal advice as a last resort
- If life at work continues to be unbearable, and all other avenues have been explored, you could consider legal action. The Vegan Society’s Know Your Rights service can discuss this with you.
- Bear in mind that raising a legal case can be incredibly stressful, will incur costs and could add more anxiety to the situation.
- Consider a free legal service or seek a free initial consultation with your local law firm. You may find help with your case on a no-win no-fee basis. In the UK, the Bar Pro Bono may be able to help.
Do you need our help?
If you find yourself in a difficult situation that you can't resolve on your own, our Know Your Rights service can provide support and help you argue your case. We have a wealth of experience supporting vegans in their efforts to practice veganism in all areas of life, whether in hospital, care home, school, prison, as a consumer, or in the workplace. We support and provide guidance to vegans dealing with unfair treatment, discrimination, and workplace grievances.
Our advocacy service supports all vegans to achieve fair and reasonable outcomes and has achieved:
- out of court settlements for vegans suffering discrimination in the provision of goods and services and employment.
- the provision of vegan food in schools.
- education policy amendments on school excursions.
- amendments to inclusion policies in the travel industry.
- successful challenges to the misrepresentation of goods under consumer law.
- changes to university assessment policy.
- changes in employment policy regarding PPE equipment.
- enhanced training policy in the private food sector (take-away).
- out of court settlements in cases of cross contamination.
- changes to employer diversity policy.
Email at KnowYourRights[at]vegansociety[dot]com
Know Your Rights service 07482 363922 Tuesday - Thursday, 9am - 5pm
Office +44 (0)121 523 1730 Monday and Friday 9am - 5pm
Donald Watson House,
21 Hylton Street,
- You can read advice and guidance from the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission
- Get in touch with the free Equality Advisory Service
- Find free legal support and more links to Citizens Advice and Ombudsman services.