Religious discrimination at work

21 October 2020

The UK government first introduced anti-discrimination law with the Race Relations Act in 1965.

In 2010, the Equality Act combined existing Acts and Regulations. This amended act protects staff from discrimination for gender, sexual orientation, and religion.

What is religious discrimination?

Religious discrimination is the act of treating someone differently due to their religion or beliefs. 

The Equality Act protects an employee's religion and beliefs. It protects their freedom to express them without fear of different treatment.  This applies in the workplace, in education and in housing.

The Equality Act doesn’t list the groups or beliefs covered. But this law has protected Muslim employees, as well as those with Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Pagan, Humanist and Atheist beliefs.

Philosophical beliefs are also protected. These include environmental beliefs, veganism, and spiritualism. This can even include some smaller religions or minority groups. 

Types of religious discrimination

Discrimination against religion can take many shapes and it isn’t always obvious.

Direct religious discrimination

Direct religious discrimination is when an employer takes an unfair action against someone based on their faith.

Examples of religious discrimination in the workplace include:

  • Not hiring an applicant based on their religion.
  • Dismissing someone based on their religion.
  • Paying an employee less than their colleagues because of their religion.

Indirect religious discrimination

More often, your workplace may be engaging in indirect religious discrimination. 

This is when you have a rule that someone may be less able to follow because of their religious beliefs.

Indirect religious discrimination examples can include dress codes and work patterns.

Religious discrimination and dress codes

Employee dress codes can be a cause of religious discrimination.

For example, a ban on headwear would stop a Muslim woman from wearing a hijab. Or a strict policy on jewellery could stop Christian employees from wearing a cross.

In religious discrimination in the workplace cases in Europe, some employers have said that the aim is to show neutrality.

However, this is much easier for those who don’t follow a religion and is unlikely to be accepted under religious discrimination law in the UK.

A dress code isn’t always discriminatory, and an employee may need to remove their religious items for health & safety reasons. Such as if they need to wear a helmet.

Time off for religious observance

In the UK, many holidays fall around traditional Christian holidays, such as Christmas and Easter. 

Workers with different beliefs may need time off to observe a religious festival, or time to pray during working hours.

It isn’t always discriminatory to deny these requests, but you must give it proper attention.  


Harassment is when an employee they're receiving negative treatment at work due to their religion or beliefs. 

The harasser can be anyone in the organisation, not just the employer.

Any action can potentially be harassment - whether it is intentional or not.


If someone believes they are being treated unfairly, they have a right to complain or make a claim at an employment tribunal

But, this doesn’t always solve the problem. And speaking out can lead to worst treatment in future.

This form of discrimination is victimisation and is illegal under the Equality Act.

How to prevent religion or belief discrimination in the workplace

Once you spot issues, you will need to learn how to overcome religious discrimination.

You may need to:

  • Provide religious discrimination training for staff.
  • Take a zero-tolerance approach.
  • Define a clear complaint procedure.
  • Review your employment policies.

By stating your goals, and reviewing company policy, you can find the solutions to religious discrimination in the workplace.

For more help with employment law and religious discrimination in the workplace, contact our 24-hour HR advice team.

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