Discrimination (Religious Belief)

Since 2 December 2003 it has been unlawful to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief in employment and vocational training. The Equality Act 2010 encompasses both direct and indirect discrimination as well as prohibiting victimisation and harassment.

Religion or belief" is defined as "any religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief". Philosophical or political beliefs are not included unless they are similar to a religious belief. The government's guidance on what constitutes a belief includes factors such as whether there is collective worship, a clear belief system, or a profound belief affecting a way of life or view of the world.

The Regulations cover direct discrimination, which is 'less favourable treatment' on the grounds of religion or belief. They also provide protection from harassment and victimisation on grounds of religion or belief. In addition, they prohibit indirect discrimination, which means imposing or requiring any practice that, although of general application, puts members of one religion or belief at a particular disadvantage.

Particular care must therefore be taken on such issues as requiring workers to work on particular days (where these may conflict with religious festivals). Such requirements, unless defensible and justified for commercial reasons may disadvantage members of a particular religious group and therefore constitute indirect discrimination.

Care should also bee taken when framing policies that may have different implications for employees of different faiths; policies relating to compassionate leave, for example, should take into the account the mourning requirements of these different faiths.   

Exceptions

Discrimination on religious grounds may be lawful in certain cases. Examples of these could be:

  • Where there is a genuine 'occupational' qualification, for example religious teachers such as priests, imams, rabbis, and those who officiate at churches, mosques and similar religious organisations;
  • Teachers in a religious school.