Religion and Belief in the workplace (Religion/Belief)
The Equality Act 2010 protects all employees from discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of their religion or beliefs. There are four main types of religious or belief discrimination:
- Treating somebody worse than another person in a similar situation because of their religion or belief.
- Operating a policy or way of working that applies to everyone but which puts some staff at a disadvantage because of their religion or belief e.g. Working hours or dress code. Employers need to show that any job requirements can be objectively justified as necessary for the operation of the business.
- Failure to make arrangements to ensure that employees are not harassed or receive offensive treatment because of their religion or belief.
- Victimising employees who have made a complaint or are supporting somebody who has.
A new ComRes report “The Belief at Work Study” looked into workplace diversity and inclusion and suggested British employers struggle to manage expressions of religion and belief in the workplace. The research revealed 3% of workers say they are discriminated against because of their religion or beliefs, and a similar proportion report having witnessed colleagues being discriminated against on this basis. The evidence also revealed a significant mismatch between HR and employee perceptions about provisions their organisation makes to cater for religious inclusion. For example, while 91% of HR managers say their organisation promotes understanding of diversity and inclusion with regards to religion and belief to some or a great extent, only a quarter of workers agree this is the case (Religion and belief | CIPD Viewpoint).
Many employers face allegations of indirect discrimination that can arise from seemingly harmless requirements, such as a dress code stating that employees are not able to display facial hair or wear anything that covers their face. Indirect discrimination is a form of discrimination that can be justified. Not surprisingly, this is where many of the arguments arise. An employee may say that they are religious, for example, but an employer may say that wearing a long-flowing garment in an environment where that may cause a serious trip hazard is prohibited (Managing religion and belief in the workplace peoplemanagement.co.uk).
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) have produced detailed guidance for employers on how to reduce the chance of religion or belief discrimination happening at work and how to deal with if it does occur. You can view the full report here: religion-belief-discrimination-guide-feb-2023.pdf
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have developed a very useful employer's guide to religion or belief in the workplace which includes handling employee requests, FAQs and examples of some of the main issues facing employers including time of work, recruitment, food and dietary requirements, dress codes and religious symbols, opting out of work duties and expressing personal views and beliefs at work.
Key steps for managing religion or belief in the workplace:
- Develop/Review a Diversity Equality and Inclusion policy. Ensure these policies and statements are easily accessible to all and contain reference to religion and belief.
- Review all policies/procedures and terms and conditions of employment. Ensure fairness and legal compliance and that they don’t discriminate on the basis of religion or belief.
- Ensure recruitment & selection processes are fair and not open to discrimination (on the basis of religion or philosophical belief). Be sensitive when arranging dates for interviews and any requirements for interview arrangements.
- Provide Equality Diversity Inclusion training. Educate staff about discrimination and harassment and encourage them to respect other’s different beliefs. Access free online training for line managers (Acas website) and trade union representatives (TUC website). Download this Religion or belief: a guide to the law from the EHRC. If you face a claim, tribunals are always interested in what level of training you have given your managers and staff to raise awareness of these issues.
- Be respectful of an employee’s religious practiced. Be sensitive to employee’s needs in terms of uniforms, dietary requirements in staff catering or providing a room for prayer. Make sure work events are inclusive, providing non-alcoholic drinks and a range of foods which have been clearly labelled, as some religious groups have specific dietary requirements.
- Give proper consideration and be consistent when dealing with employee requests. Avoid treating one request differently from another if the request and situation is similar. Use this EHRC decision-making tool for handling employee requests and check out these frequently asked questions captured by EHRC about religion or belief in the workplace. Furthermore, Acas guidance covers time off for religious observance.
- Consider publicising a calendar of religious holidays to promote greater understanding about different religions. Help staff feel they can celebrate religious occasions and understanding of the significance of religious festivals to colleagues of different faiths.
Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work and this also helps create a more productive and motivated workforce.
Client Research Associate