What Is Religion Or Belief Discrimination?
Religion and belief discrimination is when an employee is treated differently because of their religious views or beliefs, or also of their lack of religion or belief. This can be a continuous action or a one-off instance of discrimination, or it may be the result of rules, regulations or policies set up by the employer’s company.
There are four key areas of religious and belief discrimination; direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.
All employees are covered by the regulations outlined in the Equality Act 2010. Religion and belief discrimination covers all employees including management, contract or agency workers, freelancers, self-employed staff, trainees, apprentices and also job applicants. Employees are covered within all areas of employment and training.
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from various characteristics of discrimination and according to those within the sections regarding religion and beliefs any employee must not be discriminated against from being part of a particular religion, if they hold a particular philosophical belief, if an employer or colleague thinks or assumes they are part of a particular religion (discrimination by perception) or if they are connected or helped someone of a particular religion or belief (discrimination by association).
The Equality Act states that a religion or belief can be any organised religion — for example; Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Rastafarianism, Scientology, Paganism, etc. An organised religion should show a clear structure in its belief system and offer collective worship.
The act also protects employees who don’t act within any belief system or religion. In the same way a Christian may be discriminated against by an atheist due to their beliefs, an atheist may also be discriminated against by a Christian due to their lack of them.
Where philosophical belief is taken into consideration, it must be considered to be a genuine belief system and not just a personal opinion. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human nature. A philosophical belief must be worthy of respect in modern society and not contradict established laws or other people’s fundamental rights.
Political beliefs are not included as philosophical beliefs unless they are associated specifically with a genuine philosophical belief system.
Direct discrimination happens when you are treated differently to another employee because of your religion, belief or assumed religion or belief. Areas of direct discrimination include such cases as overlooking an employee more suited to a particular position for promotion by awarding the role to an employee who follows the same religious beliefs as their clients or customers, which will be seen as preferential in business procedure, and not because they are the best at performing the role involved.
An employer doesn’t have to have conflicting religious beliefs to the employee to apply discrimination, only that the actions undertaken are due to religious or belief grounds. A Christian employee may be overlooked for a role dealing with Muslim customers even though the Christian employee has a stronger working record. This is religious discrimination whether the employer is Christian or Muslim.
If an employee is overlooked or passed for a specific role or activity because, for example, they are wearing a headscarf and is assumed to be a Muslim this is religious discrimination by association whether the woman is a Muslim or not.
Indirect discrimination is when a business holds a particular policy, rule or regulation that appears to be put an employee practicing that religion or holding those beliefs to a disadvantage.
For example, some rules regarding time off or flexible working hours that may impede the actions of a particular religion’s prayer requirements or the observation of religious practices can be considered as indirect discrimination.
Applying dress code rules that don’t affect the aims and practices of a business can be seen as discrimination. When clothing pertaining to specific religious practice cause issues to health and safety requirements and there is no suitable alternative this is considered an allowable discrimination. Generally an employer is not allowed to prevent an employee from wearing articles of clothing or religious symbols if they do not impede them from doing their job.
Harassment is when an employer, or an employee under their jurisdiction, humiliates, offends or degrades an employee by their actions towards them in respect of their religion or beliefs. Harassment is delivered by any means of intimidating, hostile, degrading and offensive behaviour. It can be verbal or physical with the intent of causing physical or emotional distress.
Bullying or mocking an employee due to religious practices, dress or schedule is harassment. Also excessive monitoring and criticism can be shown as harassment if it can be proved to be due to an opposing religion or belief system.
It is a criminal offence to insite hatred of a particular religion or religious group. This includes distributing or preaching racist information designed to provoke hatred against religious groups. This is religious discrimination by harassment.
Victimisation is the act of receiving detrimental treatment as a result of having made a complaint about religious or belief discrimination or helping a colleague to make a complaint of the same.
It is also classed as victimisation if an employee is treated detrimentally because an employer, manager or other member of staff believe or assume that an employee has made a complaint on religious grounds or assisted another member of staff in doing the same.
Specific Areas Of Religious And Belief Discrimination
Interviewing Potential New Staff
Discrimination can happen before employment has been awarded. If an applicant is discriminated against during an interview on religious grounds then this is religious or belief discrimination and liable for action. Discrimination can also occur in the advertising of a company or of an available position.
Working Schedules For Religious Compensations
Although an employer doesn’t hold any obligation to honour religious festivals, prayer times or practices they should still consider requests made by employees in a sympathetic manner, showing reasonable and considerate resolution suitable to both parties wherever possible. An employee should show the same amount of respect for the employer’s business as shown to their beliefs.
Religious Dress And Appearance
An employer should show the correct amount of consideration towards employees in association with specific clothing and the representation through symbols required by certain religions. Wherever possible both parties should aim to show mutual respect for each other’s needs. Clothing pertaining to religious practice must only be prohibited if it affects health and safety, working practices, or other practical working implications.
Employers should make an employee aware of all roles that may be affected by their religious beliefs to avoid undue problems arising. Roles handling items such as meat, alcohol or contraception can impact employees involved in certain religions. In the same way an employer should show sympathy to an employee’s religious beliefs the employee should also show the same respect to the employer.
Food And Fasting
An employer does not legally have to accommodate any religions that have specific dietary requirements and practices. Unfair practices towards such applications can still prove to be of a discriminative nature. An employee entering into a period of fasting should make their employer aware of doing so if it may affect the efficient performance of their working role.
Making A Race Discrimination Claim
If an employee feels that they have been discriminated against because of their religion or beliefs they should seek to find a solution by means of the appropriate channels set out by the business. Making a complaint to a manager about the behaviour in question should be the first step. If no suitable resolve is made the next step is to make a written complaint to the employer. A written complaint is record of the discrimination if the issue is eventually taken to a tribunal.
If there is still no suitable outcome then you should consider issuing a tribunal claim against your employer and any colleague who may have discriminated against you. A tribunal may only be brought against your employer if you have followed the ACAS Early Conciliation process.
A claim must be made within 3 months of the discrimination or the most recent act of discrimination.
If successful a tribunal will announce the rights of the claimant, they can recommend the employer implements key changes to their processes to avoid further issues and similar cases arising, and also award compensation to the victim.
Awards to injury and feelings include hurt feelings, aggravated damages and injury to health. Awards will also cover loss of earnings, additional losses and money lost from interest charges.
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