Religion or Belief Discrimination in the Workplace
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their religion, or religious or philosophical beliefs, no matter if being adherents of one of the major religions or less commonly practised faith. Just like age, sex and disability, religion or belief is a protected characteristic. However, it doesn’t have the same degree of protection as disability for instance. While employers are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to ensure equal opportunity to all workers including those with disability, they are not always required to make adjustments to allow the expression of religious beliefs or religious worship. Also, there are circumstances in which they are allowed to demand from their employees to wear/not to wear particular clothing.
What is Classified as Discrimination Because of Religion or Belief
By law, employers mustn’t discriminate against employees because of their religion or belief just because they:
- are adherents of a particular religion such as Islam, Judaism, Christianity or Hinduism
- are adherents of less commonly practised religions such as Zoroastrianism or Rastafarian movement
- have deep religious or philosophical beliefs, or lack belief
- take part of religious ceremonies, organised worship
- are associated with someone of a particular religion or belief
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is discrimination if a person is dismissed, denied promotion, paid less or treated in any other unfair way compared to other employees. This is direct discrimination and it’s unlawful. The same goes for indirect discrimination, for example creating a dress code policy that is against the beliefs of a particular religious group. However, it is not discrimination if employees are required to dress in a particular way for health or safety reasons. Also, the employer may not be acting illegally if laying off someone due to their religion if the latter seriously interferes with their work.
Preventing Religion or Belief Discrimination in the Workplace
In addition to implementing the legal requirements and provide equal opportunity to all workers regardless of their religion or belief, employers should also create a clear set of rules to prevent discrimination in the workplace including a clear grievance procedure for employees who think they are being discriminated.
While employers are not obliged to provide facilities for religious ceremonies or time off for religious observances, it is highly recommended to be sensitive to the workers’ religious beliefs whenever possible. After all, a happy worker is a productive worker.