Religion or belief
It is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of their religion or belief or lack of religion or belief. Employers should ensure they have policies in place which are designed to prevent discrimination in:
- recruitment and selection
- determining pay
- training and development
- selection for promotion
- discipline and grievances
- countering bullying and harassment
Discrimination covers four areas:
- direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their actual or perceived religion and belief, or because of the religion or belief of someone with whom they associate
- indirect discrimination: can occur where there is a policy, practice or procedure which applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages workers who hold a particular religion or belief.
- harassment: when unwanted conduct related to religion or belief has the purpose or effect of violating an individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual
- victimisation: unfair treatment of an worker who has made or supported a complaint about discrimination because of religion or belief
There is no specific list that sets out what religion or belief discrimination is. The law defines it as any religion, religious or philosophical belief. This includes all major religions, as well as less widely practised ones.
Workers are also protected against discrimination if they do not hold a particular (or any) religion or belief.
Many employers find that being sensitive to the cultural and religious needs of their employees makes good business sense. This can mean making provisions for:
- flexible working
- religious holidays and time off to observe festivals and ceremonies
- prayer rooms with appropriate hygiene facilities
- dietary requirements in staff canteens and restaurants
- dress requirements.
Question and answers
What is the definition of a philosophical belief?
To be protected under the Equality Act, a philosophical belief must:
- be genuinely held
- be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint, based on the present state of information available
- be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
- attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
- be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
Humanism and atheism are examples of philosophical beliefs.
Are workers entitled to time off and facilities?
Employers do not have to give workers time off or facilities for religious observance, but they should try to do so where possible. For example, if a worker needs a prayer room and there is a suitable room available then a worker could be allowed to use it, providing it does not disrupt others or effect they ability to carry out they work properly.
What can I do if I think I've been discriminated against?
If you feel you've been discriminated against, you'll be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it's best to talk to your employer first to try to sort out the matter informally, in order to minimise the negative effects on all parties involved.
Through the Acas Helpline (08457 47 47 47) you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as mediation or Pre-Claim Conciliation, where appropriate
Are staff allowed to wear clothing at work associated with their religion or belief?
If staff wear clothing or jewellery for religious reasons, you should make sure any dress code does not unjustifiably discriminate against them. You are entitled to have a reasonable expectation that your employees dress in a way that supports your business.
The guiding principle in assisting decision making around employee dress should always be based around the impact of employees' dress upon their ability to do the job
Equality and diversity - Acas business solutions
We can visit your organisation to help you understand what needs to be done to address a range of issues related to equality and diversity and then work with you to develop practical solutions. For example we can help you develop dignity at work or bullying and harassment policies and procedures. Find out more.
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