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NHS OTCentral and North West London NHS Trust recently advertised a vacancy for a Community Occupational Therapist in Eating Disorders, that directly discriminated against vegans. The advertisement made it very clear that vegan applicants were not welcome. It stated that “The post-holder would need to provide regular meal preparation training and supported eating interventions, modelling normal eating habits. Unfortunately, OTs with vegan diets cannot be considered.” The Person Specification reiterated this, stating that candidates’ personal characteristics should include a “Willingness to cook and eat with patients modelling normal healthy eating habits on a regular basis. (NB Veganism or other highly restrictive eating practice cannot be accommodated).”

UK IVRA representative Jeanette Rowley, explains that employers can be selective about who they recruit if there is a genuine occupational requirement. In such circumstances, the exclusion of people with protected characteristics is unlikely to be deemed direct discrimination. In this specific NHS advertisement, however, no occupational requirement was specified that would justify the exclusion of vegans. The exclusion appeared to be solely on the basis of a false assumption that the vegan community eats a “highly restricted diet”. Jeanette explains that “on the face of it, it looks like a case of direct discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.”

Barbara Bolton, UK representative for the IVRA, said:

“This is direct discrimination by a government entity. Veganism is living according to the belief or conviction that it is wrong to exploit and kill living beings unnecessarily. That is a protected belief under international, European and UK law, such that it is unlawful to discriminate against people based on their vegan beliefs, directly or indirectly. Direct discrimination is treating vegans differently because they are vegan, which is what the NHS is doing in this job specification by excluding all vegans from applying. Direct discrimination is permissible only if the difference in treatment is based on a “genuine and determining occupational requirement.” In this case the NHS has assumed that anyone living by the moral conviction that it is wrong to exploit living beings will be incapable of performing the role of Occupational Therapist for someone with an eating disorder. It is clear from the job specification, in which they refer to veganism as a “restrictive eating practice”, that they misunderstand veganism entirely. Veganism is not a diet; it is living by a moral conviction. To assume that someone who does not exploit animals will be incapable of supporting someone with an eating disorder is to directly discriminate against vegans without justification. Vegans thrive on exclusively plant-based diets, with the leading dietetics associations in the US, UK and UN acknowledging the nutritional adequacy of a vegan diet, while leading medical professionals increasingly highlight research demonstrating that the consumption of animal protein (meat, fish, dairy, eggs) is detrimental to our health.”

On behalf of the IVRA, and in collaboration with The Vegan Society, Jeanette sent a communication to the NHS Trust asking for further information about the vacancy, informing the Trust about the legal status of veganism in the UK and advising the Trust to seek information and advice from the Vegan Society and the IVRA. The Trust did not provide any response to questions asked by Jeanette, but did reply within a few days to confirm that it had amended the job advertisement.

Barbara makes the point that “It is positive that the NHS has removed the express exclusion of vegans from the job specification, but the concern remains that vegans may nevertheless be rejected on account of a fundamental misunderstanding about veganism.”

The IVRA can confirm that the revised NHS job vacancy advertisement and the Person Specification document no longer discriminate against vegans. The IVRA has, nevertheless, asked the Equality Advisory Support Service to investigate further.

UPDATE: A CNWL spokesperson responded:

“Thank you for the opportunity to comment. We’re sorry for the offence we caused and yes we did speedily change the advert.

“We welcome anyone of any belief applying for any job in our eating disorders service as long as they can fulfil the specific requirements of that job; in this case it includes modelling eating a broad range of foods patients might perceive as risky.

“This requirement was wrongly summarised as about the person applying and not the clinical requirement of the job and we apologise for that.

“The Eating Disorders Service is a great place to work and provides an excellent service because it has excellent people working there, from a broad range of backgrounds and beliefs, and that’s a strength.”

Click on the thumbnail above for the enlarged image of the OT. You can view and download the original Person Specification by clicking HERE.

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