There’s new advice for supporting vegans in the workplace, including having a shelf in the office fridge.
The Vegan Society has shared suggested guidelines to help businesses look after their vegan staff.
They range from offering vegan menus at events to providing vegan-friendly work-wear for people who want it.
The charity wants vegans to be exempt from corporate events like horse racing or activities that might include cooking a “hog roast” on a barbecue.
Other recommendations include colour-coded kitchen equipment and separate areas to prepare meat-free food – as well as non-leather phone cases, being exempt from any part of purchasing non-vegan goods and the chance for staff to have discussions about vegan-friendly pension options.
The Vegan Society says these new guidelines are intended to create a positive atmosphere at work.
“Fostering a general attitude of respect towards vegan employees is key,” it writes.
“If ‘jokes’ made about an employee’s veganism become burdensome, steps should be made to improve this.”
‘You have to justify every single meal’
There are an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK who follow a plant-based diet and avoid animal produce.
One of those people is Jess Hawkes – a 28-year-old who tells Radio 1 Newsbeat explaining her choice of diet to colleagues can be “exhausting”.
“A lot of the time you get comments about being a ‘weak’ vegan,” says Jess, who was vegetarian all her life before turning vegan six years ago.
“Sometimes it’s not necessarily people meaning to be really offensive, but people will ask if you get enough nutrients and vitamins or if you’re anaemic.
“I find it offensive, but it’s been going on so long that you just get used to it.”
Now Jess, who works in works in digital marketing in Nottingham, says she finds it easier not to mention that she’s a vegan.
“If someone’s going to start questioning me it gets exhausting, and you end up having to justify every single meal that you have.”
‘It’s making assumptions’
Jess says the recommendations made by The Vegan Society are “a step in the right direction”.
But she thinks a better understanding of vegans would be more useful than some of their suggestions.
“The thing I think that’s dangerous is that it’s assuming ethics of people because – for example, the horse-racing thing – some people might be vegan for completely different ethical reasons. It might not have anything to do with animal rights.
“Some people don’t eat animal products for health, some people do it for the environment, some people do it for religion, some people might just not like meat and dairy.”
She also believes there are misconceptions about vegans that can make the workplace difficult.
“I think there’s a vast misconception that vegans are going to lecture people on their ethics and their beliefs,” she adds.
“If people had more of a broader understanding of it, then they might stop seeing it as this really radical viewpoint that needs to be commented on.”
‘Vegan harassment will be taken seriously’
The Vegan Society says it wants comments about vegans to be compared to those made about people in religious groups.
Last month a UK judge ruled that the beliefs of ethical vegans were protected by law and said they deserved similar legal protections in British workplaces as those who hold religious beliefs.
Ethical vegans don’t just avoid eating or using animal products – they also try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from their lifestyle. For example they avoid wearing or buying clothing made from wool or leather, or using toiletries from companies that carry out animal testing.
“One way of assessing whether a co-worker has gone too far with comments to or about vegans is to consider what type of conversational behaviour would be deemed offensive to other individuals with protected characteristics, such as those who adhere to certain religious values,” the society says.
Since last month’s ruling jokes or comments about vegans can be considered harassment in the workplace under the Equality Act 2010.
“An employer has a duty to ensure that all employees behave respectfully and courteously towards each other and vegans should also benefit from this,” the society states.
“If this duty is not extended to vegan employees, claims of unlawful harassment related to a protected belief will be taken seriously in employment tribunals.”