Religion or belief are protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010. It is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their beliefs; this includes someone who has no belief.
‘Religion’ or ‘belief’ is defined as:
- Any religious belief, provided the religion has a clear structure or belief system; or
- A philosophical belief.
There are four main types of religious or belief discrimination:
- Direct discrimination is where the individual is treated less favourably because of their religion or belief, their perceived belief or the belief of someone they associate with.
- Indirect discrimination is where a policy, practice, procedure or workplace rule applies to all employees, but, whether intentionally or not, disadvantages people with a particular religion or belief.
- Harassment is unwanted conduct relating to religion or belief and has the purpose or effect of violating the individual's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual. Harassment could be a verbal or written comment and may be considered by others to be a 'joke'.
- Victimisation is where the individual suffers a 'detriment' which causes them disadvantage, damage, harm or loss, because they have made or supported a complaint about religion or belief discrimination.
Other Rights or Workplace Rules
Due to the nature of many religions or beliefs, they can often clash with other protected characteristics or rules in the workplace, such as health and safety.
Employers can impose a dress code, but it’s good practice for the employer to accommodate flexibility of the dress code rules on religious grounds. However, the requirement to dress in a particular way for health and safety reasons may not be discrimination and may be justified. One example would be where there is a requirement to wear protective headwear, even though it’s against the individual’s religion to remove their turban.
Religion or Belief Discrimination at Work
If you have suffered from religion or belief discrimination in the workplace, your first step should be to raise a formal complaint. Formal complaints of discrimination should be raised through your employer’s grievance procedure.
If the grievance procedure does not resolve the issue then you may wish to pursue your claim in the Employment Tribunal. Prior to this you should undertake Early Conciliation through ACAS within the limitation period. If settlement negotiations fail, you should lodge your claim with the Employment Tribunal by the limitation date.
If you face discrimination from another colleague, your employer can be found liable for the employee’s actions. Therefore it’s important to bring any complaints to the employer’s attention at the first opportunity so that they may be resolved and prevented from happening again.
If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination by your employer or colleague, you should seek legal advice.