Religious discrimination in the workplace
Religious discrimination is the treatment of a person or persons in an unfavourable manner as a reaction to their religious beliefs. The law of the United Kingdom protects the religious freedom of people who belong to organised religions that are officially recognised, such as Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. However, there are other forms of religious worship that can result in the same fair treatment if they are proven to be a genuine form of worship based on sincere ethical and/or moral grounds.
When these beliefs are challenged or ridiculed by people outside of such religious groups that discrimination occurs. This kind of behaviour may sometimes be referred to as a joke by those doing it, but if the comments make the religious person feel uncomfortable in any way it is a clear example of religious discrimination.
How is religious harassment dealt with?
The most basic example of religious harassment is making offensive comments about a person’s religion or the practices involved in their worship. This is slightly more complicated than it sounds because some remarks are often made without offence or can be misinterpreted, but regardless of intention this is the kind of behaviour that can lead to a legal case for employment lawyers.
The difficult part of reporting religious discrimination is that the abuse can just as easily come from someone in a position of power, like a supervisor, as it can from a regular employee, thereby making the victim less likely to speak out about the abuse they have suffered. However, employment law solicitors are discreet and will only act once they are confident that a case of religious discrimination is legitimate and in breach of UK discrimination laws.
Another case of an employee being discriminated against is when employees who are clearly involved with a form of religious worship (usually through their religion-based appearance) is assigned to a non-customer contact role because of the employer’s concern that the public will react differently towards them, or will feel less comfortable in their presence .
So what can be done to prevent this?
There are laws in place to prevent this kind of treatment. They assert that a place of employment must always accommodate the beliefs and practices of all religions as long as doing so results in minimal difficulty to the business. This might also means that reasonable changes to a company’s practices and rules need to be made.
Religious dress & grooming policies
Adhering to an employee’s concerns about religious practice also extends to the dress code the religion dictates. As long as such dress does not defy health and safety codes, or make the employee perform their job unsatisfactorily, they should be allowed to dress as they please. Examples of this kind of religious dress might include wearing head coverings such as a a Muslim headscarf or Jewish Yarmulke, or even wearing full body clothing such as a Muslim women’s’ Berka veils.
The self-expression of religion can also be seen in a person’s physical appearance. Examples of this include the religious expression of hairstyles that some religions exhibit, like Sikh worshippers’ refusal to cut their hair or beards, or the Rastafarian decision to grow dreadlocks.
There are some concerns that an employee should express to their employer without expecting prior treatment, like when an individual requires a business to supply accommodation that caters to religious concerns. As long as the request does not pose a problem or result in excessive strain on the employer’s business, they should comply with the arrangement. An employer does have the right to refuse these alterations if such alterations cause problems like a decline in business efficiency, health hazards, excessive costs, or potential issues relating to the rights of other employees.
Liam Brennan is a expert blogger in issues relating to employment law. He recommends Nationwide Employment Lawyers for dealing with all form of workplace discrimination.
Please note that whilst every effort is made to maintain accuracy of the content in this article; we cannot take responsibility for any errors. This author is not an Employment Lawyer or HR Specialist and this cannot in any way constitute a substitute for Employment Law advice. All facts should be cross-checked against other sources. Should you require specific Employment Law advice, then we recommend that you contact Nationwide Employment Lawyers.