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Religion or belief discrimination

Key points

It is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief.

View or download the Acas guide pdf icon Religion or belief and the workplace - a guide for employers and employees [347kb].

There are four main types of discrimination:

Direct discrimination

Is when someone is treated differently and not as well as other people because of their religion or belief. It breaks down into three different sorts of direct discrimination or treating someone 'less favourably' because of:

  • their own religion or belief (direct discrimination)
  • their perceived religion or belief (direct discrimination by perception)
  • their association with someone who has a particular religion or belief  (direct discrimination by association).

Indirect discrimination

Can occur where a workplace rule, practice or procedure is applied to all workers, but disadvantages people who hold a particular religion or belief. In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is necessary for the business to work. For example an employer may not employ someone who insists on having certain times off for religious observance, when the time they want off is the employer's busiest time, and all staff are needed to ensure customers' orders are met.

In some limited circumstances, indirect discrimination may be justified if it is what the law terms 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. Find out more in the Acas guide, pdf icon Equality and discrimination: understand the basics [352kb].


When unwanted conduct related to a person's religion or belief, causes a distressing, humiliating or offensive environment for that person.


Treating an employee unfairly because they have  made or supported a complaint about religion or belief discrimination.

Employers should ensure they have rules 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.

There is no list that sets out which religions or beliefs are covered. The law defines it as any religion, religious or philosophical belief. This includes all major religions, as well as less widely practised ones.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has guidance on what a philosophical belief must look like:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief and not just an opinion or point of view, and it must be based on the current information available.
  • It must be a belief and a real and valued aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It should achieve a certain level of seriousness, continuity and importance.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others.

Humanism and atheism are examples of philosophical beliefs

Workers are also protected against discrimination if they do not hold a particular (or any) religion or belief.

Accommodating religious beliefs

Employers do not have to give workers time off or facilities for religious observance, but they should try to accommodate them whenever 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 affect their ability to carry out their work properly.

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.

Making a claim for Religion or Belief discrimination

If an employee feels they been discriminated against, they will be able to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, it's best to talk to their employer first to try to sort out the matter informally.

Further information is available from Ministry of Justice - Employment Tribunal guidance.

Through the Acas Helpline you can get advice on specific problems, and explore alternatives to an Employment Tribunal claim, such as Mediation, where appropriate.

Protected characteristics video

This video introduces and explains the nine protected characteristics.

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 from our Find out more page or find out how we can help by completing our Customer contact form.

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