Are Vegans Protected in the Workplace?

Here’s something to chew on: are vegans protected for their beliefs in the workplace? Thanks to a recent federal court ruling, we should be able to find out. The background, from labor attorney Maria Greco Danaher of law firm Ogletree Deakins:

“Sakile Chenzira, a confirmed vegan, was … was allowed to forego [for more than 10 years an employer-mandated] flu vaccine, which included animal by-products, without disciplinary action being taken against her. In 2010, when Chenzira refused the mandatory vaccine, she was fired. In response, she filed a charge of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and ultimately filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging religious discrimination, along with a related state claim for violation of public policy. CCMC filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that veganism is not a religion. That motion was denied.”

The court refused to dismiss Chenzira’s suit not on the merits of the case – whether she was actually a victim of discrimination – but because her claim of discrimination was credible, writes employment litigator David Woodard (law firm Poyner Spruill):

“The court sided with the employee because at the very beginning pleading stage of the case, all she needed to show was that she had a plausible claim. The Court found it plausible that the employee could hold to veganism with a sincerity equivalent to traditional religious views and therefore denied the motion to dismiss.”

But the court’s ruling shouldn’t be confused with an endorsement of veganism as a religious belief. Again, David Woodard:

“That is not to say that the employee will ultimately be able to prove that veganism is a religious practice or that the employer could not prove a defense justifying its denial of her request for an accommodation.”

What does the ruling mean for employers and HR managers? Three takeaways:

1. Consider carefully any request for religious accommodation:

“The case does, however, act as a warning to employers that requests for accommodation based on non-traditional religious views should be given the same careful analysis as those arising under traditional religions.” (Poyner Spruill)

2. Remember that even non-religious beliefs can be protected from discrimination:

“[E]mployers should remember that under Title VII, a religious belief does not need to have a concept of a god or gods, supreme beings or an afterlife. As such, employers are prohibited from discriminating against atheists.” (XpertHR)

3. Even the EEOC agrees that strongly held beliefs are not necessarily religious:

“The court’s ruling in the Chenzira case notwithstanding, employers are not required to accept at face value every assertion of religious belief made by employees. Beliefs are not protected under Title VII merely because they are strongly held. The EEOC has acknowledged that religion typically concerns ‘ultimate ideas’ about ‘life, purpose, and death,’ and that social, political or economic philosophies, as well as mere personal preferences, are not ‘religious’ beliefs protected by Title VII.” (Perkins Coie)

See also:

[Link: Is Veganism a Religion? It May Well Be for Employers and Their Employees – LXBN]

The updates:

Follow @Labor_Law on Twitter>>