Religion or Belief Discrimination
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination at work against anyone on the grounds of religion or belief. Religion encompasses “any religion, religious belief or philosophical belief”.
The Act prohibits four different types of discrimination in recruitment and employment: direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The Act also provides for limited post-employment protection in circumstances where the act of discrimination is linked in some way with the person’s previous employment.
There is no qualifying period of service necessary to make a complaint to an employment tribunal and no limit on the amount of compensation that can be awarded to a successful claimant.
Acas has published a guidance paper that gives useful examples of situations in which religious discrimination may arise.
- The definition of “religion” in the Equality Act 2010 is very wide in its scope and covers “any religion, religious belief or philosophical belief”.
- Direct religious discrimination is where an employer treats someone less favourably than someone of a different religion because of religion or belief.
- Direct discrimination that occurs because of an employee’s association with someone of a different religion is unlawful.
- Direct religious discrimination based on a mistaken perception that the victim is of a particular religion is also unlawful.
- An employer’s motives in discriminating are irrelevant in determining whether or not unlawful religious discrimination has occurred.
- Indirect religious discrimination occurs where the employer applies a provision, criterion or practice which, although applied to all employees (or all those in a defined group), could have a disproportionate adverse impact on employees who subscribe to a particular religion, unless the particular provision can be shown to be an appropriate and necessary means of achieving a legitimate business aim.
- Rules on dress and appearance may conflict with the religious customs or requirements of certain religious groups and hence be indirectly discriminatory unless justified, for example on the grounds of health or safety.
- There is no explicit requirement to provide time off work or facilities for religious observance in the workplace but a refusal to grant holiday leave on a day or date that has important religious significance for a particular employee could amount to indirect religious discrimination.
- Where an employee wishes, for religious reasons, to be exempted from working on Sundays, the employer should only refuse if Sunday working is necessary for the effective performance of the employee’s job.
- Employers must not victimise someone because they know or suspect that he or she has raised a genuine complaint of religious discrimination, or assisted another employee with a complaint.
- Behaviour will be unlawful harassment if it is related to religion and offends a person’s dignity or creates a working environment that is hostile or degrading for that person.
- Employers are not permitted to discriminate against job applicants on the grounds of religion or belief.
- It is possible in very limited circumstances for an employer to recruit someone on the basis that his or her religion or belief is an occupational requirement of a particular job. However, the legitimacy of the requirement may be contested and employers bear the burden of proof.
- Employees are protected against all forms of religious discrimination in every aspect of their employment. This will include the terms and conditions of their contract, access to promotion, transfer and training and general treatment at work.
- In considering what alternative work might be suitable for an otherwise redundant employee, managers should take care not to make negative or discriminatory assumptions about individuals or the type of work they would be capable of performing or willing to perform.
There is a general duty on all public authorities when carrying out their public functions to have due regard to the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination, including religion or belief discrimination.