Does an employer’s obligation to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs extend to veganism (i.e. the belief that it is immoral to consume or use animal products)? As noted by inveterate blogger Robin Shea, a federal court in Ohio refused to dismiss such a claim. It gives me great pleasure to report that, in California, that argument’s goose is cooked.
Both cases involved employees working in hospitals who refused to receive vaccines (mumps in California, flu in Ohio) because eggs were used in their production. But while the case in Ohio was allowed to proceed, a 2002 state court of appeal case (Friedman v. Southern Cal. Permanente Med. Grp.) reached the opposite conclusion.
It doesn’t matter how firmly held the beliefs are. According to the defintion relied on by the California court, a religion provides a comprehensive belief system and answers fundamental questions like the meaning of human existence and why we are here. Veganism doesn’t meet those requirements and, therefore, is not a religion.
To be clear, I’m not saying it’s OK to hold employees down and force-feed them hot dogs at the company picnic. But if you do, you’re not violating California’s laws against religious discrimination.
Update: Over at the New Jersey Human Resources Blog, my colleague Michael Hanan, predicts that New Jersey might buy into the veganism as religion argument.