Religion and Belief
This section provides general information on employment law. If you have specific questions, you should seek legal advice from a lawyer or trade union.
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The information in this section of the Diversity Toolkit has been compiled Croner, an organisation providing information, advice and support in the areas of employment, health and safety and environmental compliance.
Religion and Belief Discrimination
Protection against discrimination in employment on the grounds of religion or belief was first introduced in December 2003 by the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. In October 2010, the Equality Act came into force. The Act consolidated all the previous discrimination laws, including the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, into one Act, reconciling most of the differences between them and repealing the previous laws. The Equality Act contains provisions to prevent discrimination in employment and elsewhere on grounds of religion, religious belief and philosophical belief. People who do not have religious beliefs are also protected. The Act applies to job applicatnts, all workers including contract workers and agency temps, apprentices, office holders, the police and people in vocational training. It prohibits direct and unjustified indirect religious discrimination, victimisation and harassment relating to religion. There is no qualifying period of service necessary to make a complaint to a tribunal, and no limit on the amount of compensation that may be awarded.
Questions and Answers
An atheist (of Jewish ethnic origin) applies for a post as fundraiser for an Orthodox Jewish social welfare charity and has been refused the job. What grounds does he have to bring a claim to an employment tribunal?
In any recruitment and selection exercise, the employer must use objective selection criteria (eg experience, qualifications, etc). If the applicant was rejected because he or she did not meet these criteria, then there can be no claim. However, he or she might contend that the lack of a specific religious belief was a factor in the rejection. If this was the case, the charity would need to show that it had a religious ethos which required the person (under the occupational requirement provisions) to be an adherent of the Jewish faith. It would be arguable whether a specific religious belief was necessary for this post. The tribunal would consider the case on its individual circumstances.
A company employs a significant proportion of Muslim staff. They have requested the facility of a prayer room and the provision of time for religious observance. What action might the company take?
The company has no duty to provide facilities or adjust working time. However, there might be an issue of indirect religious discrimination if it does not and there is no justification for the refusal. Good employment practice suggests a policy might be drafted on religious observance. This should cover everyone in the organisation, ie people of all different faiths and those who have no religious beliefs. It may be possible to accommodate prayer sessions within normal work breaks, to accommodate the observance of religious festivals within annual leave and to provide a special room for prayer and contemplation for all staff. Understandably, resource and operational implications will be considered. These might enable the employer to justify a decision not to provide a prayer room facility and to be stringent about working time requirements.
A member of an evangelical Christian church employed as a team leader says that he is not willing to agree to the employment of a prospective new member of staff (who has been recruited to his team) and who he understands is gay. What action should the employer take?
The employer is being asked to discriminate unlawfully (under provisions in the Equality Act 2010 prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination) against the new member of staff. The team leader is entitled to his personal religious views but is not entitled to discriminate against others because of them, ie his beliefs must not be allowed to interfere with the tasks that the employer needs him to undertake. He should be reminded that harassment of the new member of staff would be unlawful.
What should a person do if he or she believes that he or she is the victim of religious harassment?
If the matter cannot be resolved through informal discussion, it should be raised through the workplace grievance (and/or harassment complaints) procedure. The complainant may also bring a claim of religious harassment to an employment tribunal. Complaints to the employment tribunal can be made whilst the person is still in employment, or after dismissal or resignation.
A company has a strict rule that all male employees must be clean shaven. Is this discriminatory?
A "no-beards" rule is indirectly discriminatory against Sikh men as they are required by their religion to have a beard. If the rule is simply part of a code on dress and personal appearance, then a claim of unlawful indirect discrimination from the Sikh man may succeed. It is hard to justify a rule against beards even if the job involves food handling, as various items are available (eg "snoods") to safeguard hygiene standards. Some companies justify the rule on safety grounds, eg beards can endanger the seal necessary on divers' diving helmets. If, however, there is no adequate justification for the rule, it will be unlawful.
- Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another person was or would have been treated because of actual or perceived religion or belief.
- Indirect discrimination occurs when an employer applies to an employee (or job applicant) a "provision, criterion or practice" which is applied equally to others and which puts, or would put, the employee at a disadvantage because of his/her religion and which cannot be justified.
- It is possible to justify the employment of a person of a particular religion if there is an occupational requirement, eg where the duties of the job require the post-holder to be of a specific religious belief, or where the organisation has a particular religious ethos.
- Individuals are protected from being victimised for bringing, or assisting with, a complaint about religious discrimination or harassment.
- An employer is liable for any discriminatory acts and harassment carried out by its employees in the course of their employment.