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Food and belief: Dealing with special dietary needs

When beef meals were found to contain traces of pork in the recent horsemeat scandal, the issue of the dietary requirements of some religions and beliefs was brought to the fore. As far as employers are concerned, what has to be done to accommodate the needs of staff who observe specific dietary requirements because of their religion or belief?

There's not much they can do about contaminated food sourced from a supplier, but there are circumstances when employers can make a difference for staff with religious dietary needs.

For example, staff who bring their own food to work may want to store it in the office fridge, but away from prohibited food. A vegetarian Hindu and a Muslim might object to keeping their food next to the ham sandwiches of a co-worker. In this instance, the employer could initiate a consultation and try to find an acceptable solution to all, such as requiring that all food be stored in sealed containers and placed on separate shelves in the fridge, one marked 'pork', the other 'vegetarian', and the third 'other'.

Employers aren't expected to provide religion-specific food such as Halal and Kosher at work-related meetings if it's not proportionate to do so. But there should be some alternative food available, perhaps a vegetarian option, so that no one is excluded.

Work functions that involve alcohol also need consideration, and non-alcoholic drinks should be available for those who refrain from drinking because of their religion or belief. Some employees may not feel comfortable in venues such as pubs and bars, and sensitivity should be shown when arranging work-related social meetings.

When it comes to recruitment, it's important that applicants with specific dietary requirements on grounds of religion or belief are not disadvantaged by the selection process. If a 'getting to know you' session on a selection day is held in a bar, it could conceivably disadvantage religious non-drinkers; employers should consider whether an alternative venue would be more appropriate. As for the job itself, if it involves handling or using pork, alcohol or any prohibited food, this fact should be made clear to all applicants.

Acas gives detailed information on Religion or belief discrimination and has published pdf icon Religion or belief discrimination: key points for the workplace [479kb]. Acas operates an  Equality and diversity advisory service which can help your organisation ensure it has the best policies and practices in place for related areas. Training programmes on Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010 are also offered.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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