The recent case of Owen v Willow Tower, in which a vegan whose employment contract was terminated following the refusal of a Covid vaccine on the grounds of vegan beliefs, raises questions around the threshold for legal protection, says Dr Jeanette Rowley in an article published this week in the Law Gazette.
Ms Owen, who followed a strict vegan diet and avoided products that were tested on animals, launched a legal case against her previous employers, Willow Tower, following her dismissal. The staff at the care home were required to get Covid vaccinations and, following Ms Owen’s refusal on the basis that the vaccine went against her beliefs as it had been tested on animals, her employment was terminated.
Dr Jeanette Rowley, a leading authority on veganism and law and Vegan Rights Consultant to The Vegan Society, has expressed concerns over the Tribunal finding that the claimant, Ms Owen, did not have a genuine belief in ethical veganism despite evidence provided.
The Tribunal, during this case, referenced the detail of individual vegan practice in a previous case involving Jordi Casamitjana, who won a legal battle on the grounds of ethical veganism in 2020. Highlighting the issues in holding Ms Owen to the same standards as Casamitjana, Dr Rowley explained that the practices of all faiths and beliefs will be nuanced for a variety of reasons, including on the basis of what is practical and possible in individual circumstances:
“What may be essential practice for one might be unachievable for another, and there should be no imposition of a narrow conception of what constitutes ‘proper’ manifestation of ethical veganism. A Christian complainant, for example, would not be denied their faith simply because they do not attend church on Sunday, and a Christian would not be expected to provide extensive evidence of how they practice their Christianity or specify how long they have been Christian.”
The Tribunal also failed to note that protection for ethical vegans is directly related to the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Veganism is protected under Article 9 of the Convention and Tribunals are under a legal duty to consider the importance of this right when making decisions that could affect a relevant community or its members.
The outcome of this case raises concerns over the standards to which vegans could be held to in future legal cases. The demand for extensive evidence overlooks the nuances of individual vegan practice in a non-vegan world and fails to take into account that the definition of veganism is ‘as far as is practical and possible’ in the circumstances.
To read Dr Jeanette Rowley’s full response to this case, visit Defining ethical veganism | Feature | Law Gazette.