Workplace religious discrimination

21 October 2020

As an employer, your staff will come from different religious backgrounds - but it's your job to make them feel part of the team and not treat them unfairly.

Workplace discrimination is against the law in the UK, and you could be taken to an employment tribunal.

In this guide, we'll discuss what religious discrimination at work is, its different forms, and how you can create an inclusive workplace.

What is religious discrimination at work?

Religious discrimination at work is when someone is treated unfairly due to their religious or philosophical belief. You must never treat someone differently than other employees purely because they are part of a particular religion or hold a philosophical belief.

It's your duty to understand the different ways an employee can be discriminated against due to their religion or belief.

To be able to tackle religious and belief discrimination head on, it is crucial you understand your employee’s rights.

How are employees protected from religious or philosophical belief discrimination?

In UK law, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone due to their religion. The Equality Act 2010 is in place to ensure no one receives unfair treatment.

Some religions which the act protects are:

  • Christianity.
  • Judaism.
  • Sikhism.
  • Hinduism.
  • Buddhism.
  • Islam.
  • Scientology.
  • Rastafarianism.
  • Paganism.

How does the Equality Act 2010 protect against religious discrimination?

Under the Equality Act 2010, someone's religion or belief makes up one of the nine protected characteristics - meaning they can't be discriminated against.

Other aspects of someone that are a protected characteristic is there:

It is crucial you understand the nine protected characteristics in order to create an inclusive workforce.

Is a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act?

It is often harder to establish whether someone's philosophical belief is protected under UK law. In legal terms, religion means something has a clear structure and belief system.

A philosophical belief is a protected characteristic under religion, so the following criteria have to be met in order to receive protection:

  • It cannot just be an opinion and must be genuinely held.
  • It must take up a substantial part of human life.
  • It must not affect the fundamental rights of others.
  • It must be worthy of the respect of others in a democratic society.

As an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure your workplace is as inclusive and diverse as possible.

A person praying with the bible open.

Different types of religious discrimination

There are seven different forms that religion or belief discrimination can take in day-to-day life. Below are in-depth explanations of each one.

  • Direct discrimination: When someone is directly treated differently due to being part of a religion or holding a particular belief.
  • Indirect discrimination: When a certain policy, practice or procedure puts a certain religion at a disadvantage. Consider the impact a change can have on an employee's religious and philosophical beliefs.
  • Perceptive discrimination: This form is when someone receives unfair treatment on the preconception, they're part of a specific religion or belief and hold a particular characteristic.
  • Harassment: When an employee receives unwanted conduct surrounding their religion or belief. This can be comments or bullying in an offensive environment which can make them feel intimidated, humiliated, or degraded.
  • Victimisation: When an employee is treated differently after making a complaint of direct or indirect discrimination, harassment, or associative discrimination.

Wooden skittles demonstrating discrimination at work.

Examples of workplace religious discrimination

To properly manage any discrimination based on religion or belief in your business, you must understand what to look out for.

Acknowledging how you could be discriminating against an employee can go a long way in creating an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming workplace.

Below are examples of discrimination which you need to ensure aren't happening in your company.

Direct discrimination due to religious beliefs

There are a range of ways an employee can be directly discriminated against due to their religion, including the following:

  • Paying someone a lower salary because they are of the Jewish faith.
  • Not hiring someone purely because they are a Sikh.
  • Refusing someone a promotion purely because they are a Jehovah's Witness.
  • Denying someone flexible working hours because you feel it may be for religious reasons.

Employees should never be denied opportunities for reasons related to religion or belief, this is completely illegal and should be avoided at all costs.

Indirect religious discrimination

There are many examples where an employer may indirectly discriminate against an employee or a group of employees.

  • Implementing an anti-jewellery dress code, but an employee may be required to wear a piece of jewellery as part of religious observance. This policy could discriminate against a lot of employees.
  • Implementing a policy where no religious dress is permitted at work.
  • Requiring people to work every Sunday or other potential religious days in the calendar. This policy could put off potential job applicants from different religious groups.

Before creating and implementing new policies, make sure you speak with all your employees to ensure you aren't offending anyone.

Associative religious discrimination

There are many examples of associative discrimination - where the employer applies an opinion based on an employee's family or friend.

Such as:

  • Not hiring someone because they are friends with a Muslim.
  • Making unwanted comments to an employee after finding out their partner is Jewish.

You should never treat colleagues differently because they are associated with other religions. Someone's own religion or belief does not defy them as a person or their ability to work.

A dark wooden judges mallet on a wooden table.

Can you be taken to an employment tribunal over religious discrimination claims?

If an employee feels they've been discriminated against of their religion or belief - they may raise a grievance or potentially take you to an employment tribunal. The tribunal will then decide if you're guilty of the claim.

The employee may choose to file an unfair dismissal claim. The unfair dismissal claim will again be heard in front of a tribunal.

Indirect discrimination can be objectively justified if the employer can show it's a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. In simple terms, there may have been a reason for the discrimination.

For example - there may be safety reasons as to why religious headwear can't be worn.

How to reduce the risk of religious discrimination at work

As an employer, you have a personal responsibility to create a welcoming, diverse and inclusive workforce.

Below are ideas you can bring into your company to lower the risk of discrimination claims being made against you - and the potential of an employment tribunal.

Create clear and concise equality and inclusivity policies

This should be essential for all businesses - create a clear inclusivity and diversity policy. This policy should outline how the employer treats people who are part of a different religion or belief.

You should also ensure your employment practices don't discriminate, for example, in job descriptions.

Create clear disciplinary procedures

Creating a disciplinary procedure for incidents of discrimination will make all employees feel confident in you. This procedure should include who to report instances of discrimination to, and what steps you'll take to investigate.

Make sure you tackle any instances of discrimination with extreme importance.

Respect employee's beliefs

As an employer, you should treat every employee with respect - no matter their religion or background.

One employee may choose to express their religious belief differently to a colleague who is part of the same religious group - so respect their choice.

Include all religions on any decision-making panels

When looking to make decisions for the businesses that'll involve your employees, make sure there's diversity shown on the panel.

This'll help employees of all religions get their point of view across and increase their confidence in your ability.

Provide education and training to new and current employees

Provide training and educate all employees on different faiths and different religions. Sometimes lack of education can lead to a pre-judged set of opinions on religion or belief.

Make sure refresher training is given on an annual basis, making sure any training is signed off.

Be accommodating to your employee’s needs

You have a duty to accommodate an employee's religious beliefs as best you can. You should allow time off for religious festivals or changes to shift patterns - if they don't interfere with the business.

Work with your staff to create a calendar which includes religious holidays and show your employees you support religious diversity in the workplace.

Get expert advice from Peninsula on avoiding religious discrimination

As an employer, you have a duty of care to protect your employee from all forms of religious or belief discrimination.

It's against the law to treat anyone differently or unfairly purely because of their religion. For example, not hiring someone because of their religious background.

The Equality Act 2010 protects all employees against religious or belief discrimination. Make sure you fully understand how discrimination can make your staff feel, and what you can do to avoid it doesn't happen in your workplace.

Peninsula offers you expert 24/7 HR advice and support, helping you create an inclusive and diverse workforce. Contact us on 0800 051 3687

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