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Religious/Belief Discrimination

One of the clauses of the Equality Act 2010 states that it is against the law to discriminate against anybody because of their religion or beliefs or their lack of religion or beliefs.

A look at how the law defines religion:

In legal terms, the word ‘religion’ refers to

  • All major religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism as well as less widely practiced religions such as Scientology, Paganism and Rastafarianism amongst others.
  • Various denominations and sects within a major religion such as Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Methodists within Christianity or Sunnis and Shi’as within Islam.

What this means is, you are protected against discrimination if you belong to any one of the major or minor religions and you are also protected against discrimination if you do not belong to any religion or do not have any religious beliefs – for example, if you are an Atheist. For example, if a Hindu book store refuses to sell you a book because you belong to another religion or because you are an Atheist, it would be considered religious discrimination, which is against the law.

Types of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace

Religious discrimination in the workplace could take various forms including but not limited to:

  • Direct discrimination – You are treated differently from other employees because of your religion or your perceived religion.
  • Indirect discrimination – You are intentionally or unintentionally disadvantaged because of a certain policy that is enforced in the workplace
  • Discrimination by association – You are treated unfavourably because of your association with someone who is from a particular religion
  • Harassment – You are bullied, teased or humiliated because of your religion or beliefs
  • Victimisation – You are treated unfairly because you filed or supported a complaint about religious discrimination

How Religious Discrimination May Manifest Itself In The Workplace

Sometimes religious/belief discrimination in the workplace may be very obvious such as when you are denied promotion or training opportunities or made redundant or dismissed because of your religion.

Sometimes, it may not be as obvious. These are a few more ways that you could be discriminated at work because of your religion that aren’t as obvious as an outright dismissal.

  • You are forced to comply with a dress code that goes against your religious beliefs. For example, you are not allowed to wear a turban or a head scarf in the office. This would disadvantage you if your religion required you to wear a turban or a headscarf. However, if your employer can justify this on grounds of health and safety, it would not be considered as discrimination.
  • You are forced to work on days that are considered holy in your religion. For example if you are a Jew and you need to take Friday afternoons off to prepare for Sabbath, your employer should allow it provided you make up the time during another day of the week. However, if your employer can justify why it is necessary for you to work on that particular day of the week, that would not be counted as discrimination.
  • The job advertisement specifically mentions that only applicants of one particular religion may apply.

Your Rights In the Workplace

Providing information to your employer –

Whether you are applying for a job, already working for your employer or are in line for a promotion, at no time is it mandatory to inform your employer what religious beliefs you hold. Your employer/prospective employer has no right to ask either. The only reason you may want to provide this information is to ensure that your religious requirements are met. This information should be kept confidential and even incognito if possible.

Accommodating religious beliefs–

Your employer is not under any legal obligation to provide facilities for your religious rituals. For example, they are not obliged to provide a prayer room for you., but if it’s possible then they should attempt to provide one. If there is a room that would be appropriate within the premises your employer should enable you to use it to pray, provided it does not disturb the other employees or compromise your capacity to perform your job correctly.

Time off for religious occasions –

Your employer is not under any legal obligation to grant you indefinite religious holidays or time off so you can observe each and every one of your religious and cultural festivals and ceremonies. However, they should try and accommodate your request for time off when possible and only if it does not interfere with their business. It is important to ask early to give your employer some time to make alternative arrangements.

Wearing clothing dictated by your religious beliefs –

If you wear certain types of jewellery or clothing due to religious reasons, your employer needs to make sure there is no dress code in place that discriminates against you. All workplaces should have a versatile dress code. The only restrictions are those that could potentially risk the health and the safety of the other employers and the work place.

Accommodating dietary restrictions–

Different religions have different dietary restrictions and it is not always possible for an employer to accommodate all of these requirements in the cafeteria. However, if they can, they should try and make sure your dietary requirements are met.

Same rights for all –

All organisations, no matter how big and small, are required to have clear procedures in place for handling requests for prayer time, prayer facilities and religious time off, which should be applied equally to all staff. You can make this easier by making sure you put in your request as early as possible.

What You Should Do If You Have Been Discriminated Against Due To Religion

If you think you have been discriminated against because of your religion, it is best to first try and bring it to the notice of your superiors in the office and get it resolved in-house. If that proves futile, you can file a case for discrimination with the employment tribunal. This must be filed within three from the last act of discrimination.

In very rare cases, employment tribunals may allow a late claim to proceed but only if you can provide exceptional reasons as to why you did not file the claim within the stipulated three months.