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Religion or belief discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against or treat someone unfairly because of religion or belief, or their lack of religion or belief.

Overview

Features of the protected characteristic of religion or belief include:

  • employees are protected against discrimination because they have a religious faith or a philosophical belief, as well as because they don't
  • no one religion or branch of a religion overrides another - so, for example, an employee is protected against discrimination by someone of another religion, or of the same religion or of a different branch or practice of their religion
  • a philosophical belief must meet certain conditions including being a weighty and substantial aspect of human life, worthy of respect in a democratic society and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others
  • all protected beliefs are equal - whether religious or philosophical.

To understand how religion or belief discrimination can happen in the workplace and how to prevent it, view or download the:

Watch our experts discuss Religion or Belief discrimination in our recent Facebook live video.

Key areas where discrimination can happen

There are three common areas.

  • Recruitment - discrimination can happen at any time during the hiring process - from the very beginning of working out what is required of an applicant, through to advertising the job, interviewing for it, allocating the job's duties and hours, and offering the job.
  • Taking time away from work for religious reasons - an employer is under no obligation to automatically give staff time off for religious holidays or festivals, time to pray or a place to pray. However, it should consider requests carefully and sympathetically, be reasonable and flexible where possible, and discuss the request and explore any concerns with the employee. Refusing a request without a good business reason could amount to discrimination.
  • Dress code and appearance - an employer should consult staff, including relevant employee-run networks and recognised trade unions if they are in the workplace. This should be to get their input and support, and take into consideration that some employees may wish to dress in a certain way or avoid certain styles, cuts/fit, or items of clothing because of their religion or belief. In an individual case, employer and employee should both be reasonable about each other's needs and try to come to an agreement.

If an employer does have rules on dress and appearance, these must be for good business reasons which are proportionate, appropriate and necessary. They should be explained to staff.

Job duties and religion or belief

At job interviews, an employer should make clear the duties of the role to all job applicants, especially the main tasks and any core hours and days. This can ensure there are no misunderstandings about what the job entails. However:

  • There are some jobs where a job applicant or employee may ask to opt out of certain duties because of their religion or belief. Examples might include handling meat, alcohol or contraceptives.

An employer should consider the request, and approve it if possible and reasonable. However, it does not have to agree if there are good business reasons for refusing the request and that refusal is proportionate. For example, reasons might include serious disruption to the business, putting too much extra work on other staff, or the task being an essential part of the role.

  • Also, an employee must not refuse to work with a colleague or client, or refuse to provide a service to a customer, because of their religion or belief, or because of the colleague/client/customer's sexual orientation, sex, gender reassignment, race, disability, marriage or civil partnership, or religion or belief. Refusal would be discriminatory. The employer could take disciplinary action against the employee, and the refusal could also lead to a discrimination claim against the employee.

Talking about religion or belief at work

An employer should not try to ban discussion of religion or belief at work. However, an employer may be able to justify some restrictions for reasons such as:

  • protecting the rights of others
  • protecting the firm's reputation
  • preventing a figure of authority forcing their personal views on others - for example, an executive on a junior employee, a teacher on a pupil or doctor on a patient.

An employer should have a policy on what use of social media is acceptable or unacceptable at work and away from the workplace when the use may still be connected to the employer in some way. This includes views on religion or belief.

Food and fasting

Religions or beliefs can have dietary requirements, but an employer does not have to cater for them, or provide facilities other than a clean seating area for breaks. However, it is advisable to consult with staff, including relevant employee-run networks and recognised trade unions if they are in the workplace. This should be on how they would prefer to see dietary requirements managed and to try to get their agreement on a policy.

Some religions require periods of fasting and/or not eating certain foods at these times. Some followers of a religion may fast, others may not, depending on their level of observance. If an employee is fasting they should tell their employer. Although an employer does not have to do so, it should consider how it might support them through such a period.

Making a claim for religion or belief discrimination

If an employee feels they been discriminated against, they can make a claim to an employment tribunal. However, it's best they talk to their employer before doing this to try to sort out the matter informally, without going to a tribunal.

If the employee does make a claim, the tribunal process includes the Acas service Early Conciliation To find out more, see the Acas guide, pdf icon Conciliation explained [120kb]. There is no longer a requirement to pay a fee to make a claim. Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.

Protected characteristics video

This video introduces and explains the Equality Act's nine protected characteristics, the areas of life protected against discrimination. As well as religion or belief, they include race, sex and disability.