What does religious discrimination look like in the workplace?

121 HR Solutions were recently asked this question as the ongoing Israel-Hamas war raises fears of anti-religious discrimination and hate worldwide.

The UK has a culturally diverse population and with it comes a wide range of religions and belief systems. Under the Equality Act 2010, religion and belief are protected characteristics, where it is unlawful for an employer to treat someone unfairly in the workplace because they possess either characteristic. The Act defines religion as any religion, including a lack of religion, and defines belief as any religious or philosophical belief, including a lack of belief.

There are several ways in which an employee or job applicant can be discriminated against in the workplace, where a person will be protected from religious discrimination whether they are already in employment or applying for a job. This is because the law prohibits discrimination throughout the entire employment lifecycle, from hiring through to dismissal.

When it comes to direct religious discrimination, examples can include a decision not to hire someone because, for example, they are wearing a hijab and thought to be Muslim, while indirect religious discrimination can include requiring a dress code that excludes people who wear certain articles of clothing as part of their faith, such as Sikh men wearing turbans (as occurred in a well known employment law case in a bakery).

Harassment in the workplace can include being such examples as being pressured by a supervisor not to take prayer breaks or being excluded from social events for disapproving of alcohol as a Mormon. Victimisation in this context can include anything from being ridiculed for complaining about being harassed, to being selected for redundancy due to being seen as disruptive.

Fortunately, there are several steps that employers can take to help prevent or minimise any religious discrimination in the workplace.

  • Providing workplace training: it is not only important for all members of staff to understand the impact and consequences of their own discriminatory conduct, but to educate those responsible for making management decisions in these areas of risk.
  • Reviewing any equality and diversity policy: clearly set out the stance taken by the workplace in relation to discrimination, harassment and victimisation on grounds of religion and belief, with illustrative examples of what can amount to discrimination and the consequences of behaving in a discriminatory way.

The employer may not always be directly responsible for any religious discrimination, but they have a duty to ensure the provision of a safe and inclusive working environment, free from harassment and victimisation. Contact us at enquiries@121hrsolutions.co.uk and we can discuss and further queries you may have on this subject.

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