Written by Imogen Hamblin
Employees are contractually obliged to carry out the lawful and reasonable instructions of their employers. Therefore, if an employee who worked in a supermarket was refusing to handle money or meat products, you would be able to dismiss them, right?
Following the landmark legal case of Jordi Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, the answer is, possibly not. In this case, the Employment Tribunal held that ethical veganism was a philosophical belief and is therefore protected by the Equality Act 2010.
If an employee was refusing to carry out the above tasks, because to do so would be in contravention of their belief, any dismissal could be discriminatory. Employers now have an obligation to consider making reasonable adjustments for employees with this protected characteristic. Examples of reasonable adjustments could be allowing these employees to work in other departments, where coming into contact with meat products was not part of their day to day responsibilities. As handling money could also be problematic, because the new £10 and £5 notes contain traces of pork gelatine, employers need to consider which roles might be suitable.
If there are no suitable alternative roles, then an employer may be able to dismiss fairly, so long as it followed a fair process and demonstrated that it had taken all steps which were reasonable in the circumstances.