It is unlawful to discriminate against a person for not holding a religion or belief, much the same as it is unlawful to discriminate against someone who does hold a particular religion or belief.

Religion is defined as any religion, and belief is any religious or philosophical belief.

There are four main types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their religion or belief, whether perceived or actual or their association with someone of a particular religion or belief.
  • Indirect discrimination: Where a workplace practice or provision is applied equally to all staff but disadvantages those of a particular religion or belief.
  • Harassment: Unwanted conduct relating to a person’s religion or belief which creates a humiliating and degrading environment for an employee. Harassment can include unwanted conduct from clients or customers. As an employer, once you are aware of this behaviour, you should take reasonable action to address the issues.
  • Victimisation: Mistreating an employee because they have made or supported a complaint about religion or belief discrimination.

There is no definitive law on which religions or beliefs are covered, therefore it is safe to assume that all major religions are covered, as well as some less known/not as widely practised religions.

Accommodating Religious Beliefs

As an employer, you do not have to give employees time off for religious observances, but it is good practice to accommodate them wherever possible. 

This may include providing provisions for:

All requests submitted by employees should be taken seriously, and no assumptions should be made about the significance of religion or belief.

Training and Practices

No matter the size of your organisation, it is good practice to have an equality and harassment policy, which specifically covers religion and belief as well as other protected characteristics.

All employees should be aware of and trained on the equality policies, and it should be updated regularly.

Employees should be aware of the processes to follow if they feel they have been subjected to discrimination harassment or victimisation.

This should be provided for within their staff handbook.

It is good practice to monitor regularly religion and belief so you can analyse how your policies and practices are affecting your workforce.

You should tell the staff why the information is being collected and how it will be used.

Occupation Requirement

In limited circumstances, it will be lawful for employers to specify that the job applicants must have a particular protected characteristic.

The occupational requirement concerning religion or belief will most likely occur when:

  • Organisations with an ethos based on religion or belief have the requirement of limiting certain job roles to those who share the same ethos/beliefs;
  • Organisations that provide services aimed at a particular religion or belief have a requirement to employ people with a certain protected characteristic to ensure the targeted group can use the services offered.

There is a strict criterion that must be met to claim the occupational requirement:

  • It must be crucial to the job role and not just an important factor;
  • It must relate to the nature of the job, rather than the organisation;
  • It must be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Organised Religion

There are additional exemptions which apply where the employment is for organised religion. This additional exemption only applies when:

  • Appointing a person satisfies a proportionate way of complying with the doctrines of the religion;
  • Employing a person who does not meet the requirements would conflict with the religion’s follower’s beliefs, causing conflict. Hiring this person must be proportionate to avoid such conflict.

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About the author 

James Rowland

James is the Commercial Director at Neathouse Partners and regularly writes articles surrounding issues in HR & Employment Law. Outside of the office, James is a keen Cricketer, playing in the Cheshire League for Nantwich CC. He also loves going to watch his football team, Crewe Alexandra. Feel free to connect with James on LinkedIn.

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