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Religion in the workplace

Published 19 April 2022

 

Following the Easter break it is a good time to focus on religion in the workplace.

At the weekend Christian, Jews, and Muslims all marked important holidays as for the first time in years, Easter, Passover, and Ramadan fell on the same weekend [1 cited 19/04/22]

Religion in the workplace is a topic that cannot be ignored, regardless of any personal beliefs.

Religious discrimination laws cover direct and indirect religious discrimination, and harassment and victimisation because of an employee’s religion.

Workers will hold various beliefs and how they observe and express any belief can manifest itself in many different ways in the workplace.

Employers should recognise and manage the expression of an employee’s religion or belief at work.

Failing to do so can lead to claims of religious discrimination, which is unlawful.

Discrimination because of an individual’s religion occurs when they are treated differently because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief, in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act 2010 [2 cited 19/04/22]

The Equality and Human Rights Commission state the treatment could be a one-off action or as a result of a rule or policy, and it does not have to be intentional to be unlawful [3 cited 19/04/22]

The Equality Act says you must not be discriminated against because:

  • you are (or are not) of a particular religion
  • you hold (or do not hold) a particular philosophical belief
  • someone thinks you are of a particular religion or hold a particular belief (this is known as discrimination by perception)
  • you are connected to someone who has a religion or belief (this is known as discrimination by association)

In the Equality Act religion or belief can mean any religion, for example an organised religion like Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Buddhism, or a smaller religion like Rastafarianism or Paganism, as long as it has a clear structure and belief system.

There have been high profile cases where an employer has got it terribly wrong in regards to an employee and their religion.

  • A Catholic civilian worker who had to leave her job over alleged harassment by her Army boss is set to receive more than £500,000 in compensation.

The worker took a religious and sexual discrimination case against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after retiring due to ill health in 2019.

The award, made by the fair employment tribunal in Belfast, is believed to be one of the biggest of its kind [4 cited 19/04/22]

  • A nurse who claimed she was victimised for wearing a necklace with a Christian cross at work won a case for unfair dismissal. The theatre practitioner was discriminated against and harassed, an employment tribunal ruled. The nurse, a Catholic, wore a necklace with a small cross pendant both in and out of work as a symbol of her religious devotion [5 cited 19/04/22]

 

  • A Jewish lawyer was awarded a payout of over £26,000 in a religious discrimination case after he was sacked for not going into work during Passover.

He was forbidden by his religion from working during the first two days of the Jewish holiday, and had booked the time off from his job at a Manchester law firm [6 cited 19/04/22]

 

UK law leaves it to each employer to make its own decision as to how it will manage and support an employee to express their religion or belief. It is for an employer to strike the right balance between the freedom for a worker to do so, and its compatibility with how the business operates.

Such a decision should be made fairly and reasonably and with the confidence it will stand up to any legal challenge.

All workplaces should encourage equality, diversity and inclusion. It is a good idea for organisations to have a policy that is up to date and that makes such a commitment clear.

Staff should feel comfortable to express their religion or belief in the right way, and employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to any form of discrimination.

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