Veganism in the work place

If you want to be a great leader, you need to make sure that every member of your team feels safe, welcome, and included. While issues like religion and culture come to mind, other strongly held beliefs, like veganism, are also important to consider, especially with this being a fast growing movement, it is almost guaranteed you will eventually have someone who is vegan working for you if you don’t already.

I know many of our followers on social media are vegan & I myself as a vegan employee have faced discrimination and be put in uncomfortable situations, funnily enough this is what made me research this topic & decide to write this blog to help employers understand what they should be doing to support employees but also for vegan employees to know that you aren’t alone, we all face challenges in the workplace around our beliefs.

Without the right culture and leadership, vegan employees might suffer teasing from colleagues, a lack of options when it comes to catered events, or discomfort at being asked to carry out certain tasks. To ensure that your vegan employees feel safe and respected you need to understand what veganism means to someone.

Equality and diversity is probably something that is important to your company and veganism should be factored into this the same way sex, race and disabilities would be.

Some countries already include this in their policies and have done for many years, for example in 2010 the Uk passed the Equality act and this protects people from discrimination, including veganism related. If you have a policy in place now it the time to update it, and if you don’t then you need one.


Definition of veganism

The definition of Veganism was coined by the Vegan society in 1949, a few years after the society was created in 1944.

Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

For vegans, the practical manifestations of this philosophy are integral to expressing their identity.


How to manage vegan staff well.

In certain situations, a vegan member of staff may be faced with doing something that is against their belief that animal use should be avoided as much as possible. These issues need to considered on a case by case basis, and alternatives options discussed. The definition of veganism recognises that there is sometimes no alternative to animal use in a non-vegan world.

I want to give an example of this which I have faced. I was asked to do a stock take and clean the walk in freezer in the commercial kitchen. The freezer is full of animal products, so dead chopped up animals. Even the thought of this made me physically sick. I had to explain that I couldn’t do this and compromised by doing the dry store room which is also full of animal products but in pretty packaging that I didn’t find as depressing. I would never work in a food and beverage based role again because of my vegan beliefs.

If you want to make vegan members of staff feel included, even small gestures can help, such as treating everyone to some vegan-friendly biscuits. Work socials should be carefully considered. If you’re planning a meal, it’s a good idea to check the vegan offerings of local eateries before deciding on the location. If you’re thinking about some kind of activity, go for one that does not involve animal use. If you decide on a trip to a greyhound racing track, for example, vegan members of staff will want to give that one a miss.


Make Sure Vegan Options Are Available

It sounds obvious, but many employers fall at the first hurdle by failing to provide adequate vegan options for staff. If you work in a building with an onsite cafeteria or you provide staff meals, make sure that there is always at least one vegan meal option – preferably more and that the options change daily. Remember that a vegetarian option won’t always be vegan, and look for simple changes that could be made to dishes, like removing cheese or mayo.

If you have both vegans and vegetarians that you are catering for then its important to note that a vegetarian can eat a vegan option but a vegan cant eat a vegetarian one so if you don’t have the budget to provide both then go for the vegan one.

Think attention to detail, for example if you have a tea/coffee set up make sure their is at least one plant based milk option.

You should also consider your vegan employees when buying snacks to eat during meetings, bringing in cakes to celebrate a birthday, or booking a work Christmas dinner. Your employees will really appreciate the effort, and you’ll be setting a great example. If you aren’t sure what items to bring that are vegan, simply ask them – they will truly appreciate the effort.

Watch out for Bullying and Harassment

Most of us have observed mild teasing of vegetarians and vegans – whether on TV, in satirical ad campaigns by fast food companies, in memes on social media or in person. However, what might be viewed as friendly banter by one person could be considered deeply hurtful or offensive by another.

Keeping a close eye on your team dynamic and stepping in if you feel that good-natured teasing is becoming hurtful is a good move. It’s also worth highlighting your policy on bullying and harassment and letting staff know who to talk to if they’re having a problem, keeping the lines of communication always open.


Ask Employees If They Require Any Special Accommodations

Depending on their personal beliefs and preferences, vegan employees may not feel comfortable carrying out some duties. It’s important to keep the conversation open and make accommodations wherever you can. In many cases, it’s easy to swap tasks around so that everyone on the team is assigned tasks they’re comfortable with.

Another example I can give of a task I was given was a meeting I was asked to take with a pest control company, I had to listen to him selling me their products and methods of killing different types of animals. This was a very uncomfortable experience for me and I was by far the worst person for him to be pitching to.

The legal rights of vegans at work vary from country to country, and The Vegan Society provides more detailed information on this and rights of vegans will only increase so even if your country doesn’t yet recognize this, that doesn’t mean that your company cant. Be progressive and a place that attracts employees.


Create a Culture of Understanding and Respect

There are many ways that your employees will differ from one another, so creating a culture of understanding and respect is the most important thing you can do. Start with simple steps like listening to employees via regular feedback and showing that you care by making positive changes.

Look closely at your interactions with all your staff, and ensure that you’re fully present, thoughtful, and open-minded. This attitude will trickle down to the rest of the organisation, making employees feel safe and welcome no matter what they eat, wear, or believe.


Train staff

These general training sessions should also inform senior staff, managers and team leaders about how they can avoid discrimination against vegans and how they should conduct discussions with vegans to help provide a supportive workplace environment. All senior staff, managers and team leaders should understand that they are under a duty to treat vegans with respect, have due regard for their needs in the workplace and be able to understand how to deal appropriately with requests or complaints from vegans. They should also be able and confident to deal fairly with inappropriate behaviour against vegan employees.


Some additional tips to think about…

• Sending out a ‘dietary requirements’ sheet for catered
events, ensuring that vegans have the opportunity to
request that appropriate food is provided for them.

• Ensuring kitchen facilities are acceptable for them to use,
for example by keeping utensils and foods clean, providing
colour coded equipment and separating food preparation

• Designating dedicated food storage areas for vegans, such
as a shelf in the fridge above non-vegan foods.

• Ensuring that vegans have access to vegan-friendly clothing
or other items, such as synthetic safety boots or a non-leather
phone case.

• Exempting vegans from a requirement to attend corporate
events such as horse racing, and team building events that
revolve specifically around animal products such as a ‘hog roast’

• Considering exempting vegans from participating in buying (or
signing off on the purchase of) non-vegan products.

• Supporting vegan employees to discuss their pension investment
options with a relevant member of staff


Need more assistance?

Vegans in employment are likely to be only too pleased to offer assistance with the development of workplace policies and practices so if you already have vegans working for you, call a meeting and ask them for their opinions and guidance.

You can also obtain various helpful resources to help you understand veganism and the needs of vegans.

If you need my help I have a few options of what may be beneficial …

Purchase my e book – Your Vegan Bestie. This is a Vegan transition guide but will really help you to understand veganism on an in-depth level, if you understand your vegan staff you can make sure they are looked after.

You could book me for a talk on veganism at your company. I would recommend this option if you have vegan staff already or a lot of staff who are plant-based, flexitarian or interested in this way of life.

Or you could take one of my online vegan training courses for the hospitality industry if this is the industry you are in.

I am currently creating an online training titled ”veganism in the workplace” so if you are interested in hearing more about this then get in touch.