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Religion or Belief Discrimination at Work

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 10 Jul 2015 | comments*Discuss
 
Religious Discrimination Religion Belief

In recent years, anti-discrimination legislation has been widened to include poorly treating or favouring a person on the grounds of their religion or belief, regardless of what those beliefs are. The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations came into force in December 2003 and are intended to protect schoolchildren, students, and people in the workplace. There isn't a list of religions that are to be tolerated, and the field has been deliberately left wide open so as to include any belief systems that might come into vogue in the future.

Indirect and Direct Discrimination

As with other forms of discrimination, the legislation covers direct and indirect action, whether it's positive or negative, as well as victimisation and harassment. Direct discrimination is the deliberate treatment of somebody of a particular religion in a particular way, for example failing to promote someone because of their religion, whereas indirect action is making rules that would disadvantage someone of a particular religion, such as banning religious headwear on Health And Safety Grounds, which would discriminate against certain practising Muslims, Jews or Sikhs. It could also be that there is always a particular regular meeting on Friday afternoons, which may indirectly discriminate against some practising Jews and Muslims, in the same way that enforced Sunday working would offend strict Christians. Victimisation and harassment are obviously banned at work social events, and any event that is organised by the company.

Positive Action

These laws put the onus on employers to take active steps to make sure that discrimination on these grounds (or any other grounds) isn't happening. Companies must educate employees to be aware of the ramifications of these regulations and monitor situations to ensure that everything is above board. This can cause problems when there is a crossover with personal privacy, as some people may not want their religious views to be made known.

Some religions need to have different holidays or certain times of the week off to practise their faith, so companies should take steps to allow people to observe the obligations of their faith. It is the responsibility of workers to give managers reasonable notice of the dates and times, and make sure that arrangements can be made to ensure the business does not suffer.

Exemption from Regulations

There are, as with many of the other forms of discrimination, certain special cases where an exemption from the regulations may be made. An example might be where a Roman Catholic school is looking for Religious Education teacher, or if a particular faith is at the core of an organisation's reason for existence, such as a charity providing support to a particular religious group.

The key is that there has to be a genuine need for someone to be of a particular faith, either because of the nature of the organisation or the post advertised. This exemption can be applied in the other direction too, in that an employer may choose not to employ someone if they believe they do not meet the religious need.

Take Further Action

Along with all the other anti-discriminatory legislation in the UK, those covering religion and belief do not only apply to the people being discriminated against, but also those who witness it. Whether you are a witness or a victim, the law applies in the same way and details of steps to take to resolve a situation are covered in our Taking Action Against Discrimination article.

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@Val - I am sorry to hear of this. I have included a link to our partner article: Your Rights Regarding Bullying In The Workplace, which may help you here. You may also wish to speak with someone directly. You can call ACAS via the link here. I have directed you to its article on 'bullying and harassment in the workplace' which should also clarify your rights regarding your situation. I hope this helps and that you manage to find a resolution.
WorkingRights - 13-Jul-15 @ 10:35 AM
I've been bullied in my place of work now for4& half years and made a huge mistake of not saying anything, then the minute I retaliated and called the bully 'a boring fool' on social media, she made it a grievance and I got a gross misconduct warning. I accepted the warning because I didn't understand it & it was put across to me by my boss as being something I have to accept. The bullying continues & I, even though my warning was 2 years ago, feel I can't say anything about my day to day misery because they will think it's 'tit-4tat'. I am so un happy but can't afford to pack in my job. It it wasn't for that 1 colleague, I would really be happy in my work because I do enjoy it. She makes remarks about my weight, calls my family, has me on a timer for everything I do, stops me interacting with customers and lies to my boss about me, she influences the boss in to doing things against me but makes out its all in my favour, I.e. Getting my hours reduced, stopping me getting any extra hours. She does 64 hours a week, I now do 16hours, my boss said any overtime would be mine but she gets in there first and takes the extra hours as well as her 64. She sees the boss on a regular basis to discuss work, I don't see my boss at all therefore haven't a clue what nastiness she puts across about me. I tried to speak to my boss about it recentley and was told the subject wasn't up for discussion. There is no one else I can go to so I just have to accept it. I do, on the odd occasion I ask her who she thinks she's speaking too and that makes the bullying worse so to keep peace in the work place, I just take it on the chin and plod on.
Val - 10-Jul-15 @ 6:20 AM
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