Vegans who object on ethical grounds to receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the United Kingdom have raised the issue loudly enough that it has recently garnered coverage from several top media outlets there.
The issue is whether British employment law would shield employees from being forced to take a "jab" over their objections -- possibly linked to animal testing of vaccines -- that mirror the views of those taking exception on religious grounds. It could affect American companies in that country and possibly those in the U.S. if the issue is raised here.
Here's how the U.K. Evening Standard framed the issue:
An estimated half a million Britons who do not consume animal products would not have to adhere to so-called "jabs for jobs" rules under employment laws, it has been claimed.
Big firms, including Netflix and Google, have already told many US staff they must be vaccinated before returning to work and Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday that the rule was "smart policy."
"While the UK Government has introduced legislation stating care home staff must be jabbed. The Covid vaccine does not contain animal products, but all medications currently go through animal testing. Ethical veganism was ruled to be a protected characteristic at a tribunal last year.
"A spokesman for Lewis Silkin, a law firm, told the Telegraph: 'Some ethical vegans may disagree with vaccinations on the basis that they will inevitably have been tested on animals. Ethical veganism has previously been found to amount to a belief, capable of being protected.'"
"The protections mean that vegans and people in other categories, including some religious groups as well as those with certain disabilities or medical conditions, could mount a claim of constructive dismissal if forced to get the jab.
The issue has not yet been as high profile in the U.S., but with an increasing trend of companies requiring employees to become vaccinated to return to work, similar issues related to religious objectors -- and possibly groups such as vegans -- could surface soon.
Here's how the issue was summarized by the Prinz Law Firm in Chicago:
"Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, individuals have the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of religion. As part of their religious beliefs, many individuals object to vaccines. Employers are required to accommodate religious observances and practices, unless doing so imposes an undue hardship on the business.
"Religion" is very broadly defined and encompasses not only organized religions, but also informal beliefs. "Religion" under the law can also encompass non-theistic and moral beliefs.
In Chenzira v. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, 2012 U.S. Dist. Lexis 182139 (S.D. Ohio, 2012), the court recognized that veganism, in some circumstances, may constitute a sincerely held religious belief. That court exempted an employee from a flu shot requirement.
Once an employer determines that a true religious exemption exists, the employer must make an accommodation for the employee. Such accommodations may include reducing a mask requirement, modifying work duties to comply with social distancing, adjusting an employee's schedule, or allowing an employee work from home."