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Veganism Considered Equal to Religion in Employment Discrimination Lawsuit. Sorta Maybe, For Now.

“The court finds it plausible that Plaintiff could subscribe to veganism with a sincerity equating that of traditional religious views.”

Congratulations (for now) to Sakile S. Chenzira of Cleveland, Ohio. Chenzira had been fired from a job as a hospital customer service representative for refusing to get a flu vaccine. She refused the vaccine because it was in incubated in a chicken egg.

If you can read legalese, check out the the court’s Opinion and Order. There’s been no ruling yet on whether Chenzira can continue her employment, but the court did find her claim sufficiently valid to proceed to whatever the next step is.

The only reporting I’ve seen on this so far is wonky stuff from the business-liability community, such as “3 Employer Bummers” from Employment And Labor Insider, “Fringe ‘religions’ (veganism?) raise interesting problems for accommodation requests” from Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, and a story at BusinessInsurance.com. It makes sense that employers would be following this carefully.

For a lot of us, the biggest thing we have to worry about as vegans in the workplace is whether we get birthday cake or not. But for some jobs, like Chenzira’s, it can get a lot more serious.

Can you imagine a situation where sticking to your vegan principles could endanger your job?

Is veganism a religion? If not, is it equivalent to a religion?

Would you get a flu vaccine if you felt you were at risk, despite it being incubated in eggs? How serious would a medical threat have to be for you to consider using medical solutions that involve animal products?

8 Comments

  1. Comment by

    June

    on #

    Veganism IS MY religion! I consider it so. I used to work at a place where one of the employees was always making sarcastic cracks about my veganism. I looked into the anti-harassment policies and was going to make a complaint based on veganism being my religion. However, I had a talk with the guy and he backed off. I was required to get a flu shot when I used to work at a hospital. I got out of it simply by submitting a form, and gave as the reason that I can’t tolerate eggs. I didn’t bring my veganism into it because I couldn’t afford to make a test case out of it at that time. Too many rescued animals to support, dontcha know.

  2. Comment by

    Karen

    on #

    What about those of us who are allergic to certain animal proteins? This raises interesting questions. I don’t believe that veganism should be equated with religion but I do believe that no employer should FORCE a medicine on an employee.

  3. Comment by

    Kim Lee

    on #

    I’m surprise that they could fire her over a personal health care choice. At my workplace, you can decline although they make it prohibitive to do so (you have to wear a mask at all times during flu season).

  4. Comment by

    Tracie

    on #

    I’m a nurse who’s never gotten a flu shot precisely because they are incubated in eggs. I have also never gotten influenza because of it. Flu vaccines are produced in fertilized eggs–these aren’t the ones you’d get at IHOP; fertilized eggs contain living baby chick embryos. The hens that lay the eggs for U.S. government vaccination programs are kept under top-secret conditions akin to munitions plants because adequate supply of flu vaccine is seen as a matter of national security. Who knows what happens on these farms to the chickens? It’s completely consistent with vegan philosophy to abstain from flu vaccination if one cannot morally condone its manufacture. As for religion, I describe my veganism as my Rule of Life, similar to those practiced by Benedictine monks for example. It’s set of behaviors that are consistently manifested in daily practice, based on moral beliefs, and a set of standards to which I can be held accountable. Certainly if religion is described as beliefs to which a person or group adheres, veganism qualifies. Though it doesn’t worship one or even any god per se, its root is compassion and the desire for a better world, similar to the tenets of many major religions.

  5. Comment by

    Donna Ballman

    on #

    I actually mention this in my just-released book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired. In my section on religious discrimination I say,

    “Sincerely held beliefs: You don’t need to be part of an organized religion to be protected against religious discrimination. Atheists are protected. So are “moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.” It doesn’t matter that the beliefs are illogical or even that they aren’t held by many people. For instance, a person who practices veganism for moral reasons may be protected against religious discrimination, where a person who practices veganism for health or environmental reasons may not be protected.”

    I’m glad the courts agree with me.

  6. Comment by

    Sean King

    on #

    I don’t have an exactly positive view of religion, I definitely would not want my veganism viewed as a religion. Religious beliefs are often held irrationally. Veganism is at least supposed to be rational. That being said, vegan principles are as sincere as any religious principles. But then again, so are many environmental principles, as they are based on moral principles.

    I know nothing about the egg incubation involved in developing flu vaccine, but my philosophy is as simple as weighing the costs and benefits—if the development of the flu vaccine causes more suffering than it stops then I think it should be avoided.

  7. Comment by

    unethical_vegan

    on #

    “It’s completely consistent with vegan philosophy to abstain from flu vaccination if one cannot morally condone its manufacture.”

    If your definition of veganism includes doing less harm then getting vaccinated can be entirely consistent with a vegan lifestyle. For me veganism is not about personal purity, its about carefully weighing the ways in which I harm animals (including human beings!) and attempting to do less harm. I would destroy an awful lot of fertilized chicken eggs to save the life of a single child.

  8. Comment by

    Jerry Friedman

    on #

    Donna, I wish all courts agreed with you. I had a similar lawsuit (http://www.myerlaw.com/archives/documents/FriedmanKaiser/OriginalComplaint.html) but the appeals court thought only theistic religions were reasonable despite California and U.S. law, and higher courts declined to review the bad appellate decision. I hope this plaintiff fares better.

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