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Denise Keating: Don't hide from religion or belief

Friday 25 May 2018

Denise Keating discusses Acas' religion or belief discrimination guidance.

Denise Keating

Denise Keating

Denise Keating is chief executive of the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (ENEI). Denise launched ENEI in 2011 in response to Members asking for a coordinated offer that helps employers to create inclusive workplaces. Denise was instrumental in creating ENEI's predecessor Employers Forum on Age in 1996 and served as a Board Director and Trustee between 2002 -2009.

I was taught that there are three things never to bring up at the dinner table: sex, politics and religion. Employers could be tempted to apply the same rules to their workplaces, aiming to minimise the risk of discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

Whilst this sounds like a simple and sensible solution, it isn't. For one, such a practice would be illegal; the Human Rights Act 1998 gives the right to show a religion or belief as long as the display or expression of that belief doesn't interfere with public safety, public order, health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.

Secondly, to get the most out of their workforce employers must provide an inclusive environment. This is where everyone can be their true selves at work, encouraging them to share their lives and experiences to drive better business results. The first step on the path to inclusion is equality, and the guidance provided by Acas is a great resource for employers of any size who may be unsure about their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010.

The Religion or belief discrimination guidance provides valuable examples of scenarios where discrimination on the basis of religion or belief could inadvertently take place. Philosophical belief in particular can be a risk for employers, especially as examples of what are and are not recognised beliefs are defined by case law.

Religion or belief is the most challenging of the Protected Characteristics for employers to manage, mainly because of how it sometimes comes into conflict with other Protected Characteristics. Sexual orientation and trans identity come into conflict with a number of beliefs, without mentioning the potential of clashes between adherents of different religions. Going beyond the minimum requirements of the law by having a clear policy on inclusion and dignity at work is the best way to ensure all employees are aware of what is and isn't acceptable in the workplace.

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