Can Your Boss Make You Be a Vegetarian?

Is a meat-free office policy going too far?

A former employee of an eco-friendly accessories manufacturer claims that her rights as a meat-eater were violated by company policy.
The company’s 18 employees are barred from bringing animal products in their lunches, and they are required to order vegetarian items when they dine in a restaurant with a client. The complainant says she was reduced to smuggling food into the office in her purse, or sneaking out to her car for a bite of a contraband tuna sandwich.

The employer is Matt & Nat, an accessories company that was founded on principles of environmental consciousness. It uses no suede or leather, but instead makes its bags, belts, and briefcases out of mostly recycled materials like nylon, rubber tires, and plastic soda bottles. Attorney Jordan Charness says that the private company is breaking no laws. “It’s like a dress code. Here, it’s just an eating code.”

Are carnivores a protected class?
You’re familiar with the EEOC protections based on age, race, gender, religion, national origin, pregnancy, and disability. Beyond that, private companies have a lot of leeway, as long as they don’t violate safety laws or labor practices, and if their policies are applied equally to all employees, or all members of an employee category. They can tell you how to talk and dress, make you cut your hair or shave a mustache, and forbid you from showing tattoos or piercings. They can control things that affect the work environment like food smells and perfumes, or coffee cups and family photos on your desk.
In other words, yes, your boss can make you be a vegetarian, at least while you are on the clock.
Skeptics can slog through the Compliance Manual of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I already did.

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2 Responses to Can Your Boss Make You Be a Vegetarian?

  1. Alex says:

    Peredur, it is generally the case that omnivores get defensive just by someone in their vicinity being vegan. Someone once had a go at me because I declined an offer of a milkshake. I’ve experienced other similar ignorant and defensive reactions too from meat eaters for years.

    Plus, meat eaters think they are superior to animals, so they shouldn’t go around complaining about superior feeling vegans. It’s just hypocrisy.

  2. Peredur says:

    While, yes, your boss can disallow meat products in the workplace, they cannot forbid you from eating meat on your own time – which would seem to me to include lunch, provided you aren’t eating it on premises. If you work for a company that is that anti-animal product, you should kind of expect it. So I do not believe the woman’s “rights” were violated. Honestly, in this economic environment it seems easier to go meatless for a couple of hours than to start job hunting. Unless of course your “job” is to be a professional victim…

    Still, a word to the vegans: militancy will not bring people to your cause and will not only fail to get your point across, it will create active opposition to what you are trying to accomplish. I have no problem with vegans (or anyone else, for that matter) but when you try to shove your own lifestyle down my throat, well, then we have a problem! Just sayin’!

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