What is Religion or Belief Discrimination?

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The law requires employers to not discriminate because of religious beliefs.

Under the Equality Act, you are protected against discrimination because you hold, or because you don’t hold, a particular religion or philosophical belief.  It’s fairly straightforward to identify a religion, but it’s harder to define what counts as a ‘belief’ that warrants protection from discrimination.

What is Religious Discrimination?

If you’re (for example) a Christian, and are treated less favourably in the workplace than someone else who isn’t Christian (and that treatment can be shown to be because of your religion), then that would be discriminatory.

You can be discriminated against due to belonging to a religion for example:-

  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Sikhism
  • Judaism
  • Christianity
  • Buddhism

Likewise, if you don’t have any religion, and you’re treated unfavourably because of your lack of religion, that’s also potentially discriminatory.

Discrimination – what is a ‘Belief’?

A ‘belief’ can be either religious or non-religious belief.  For any philosophical belief – i.e. a non-religious belief, including a political belief – to qualify for protection from discrimination, it must satisfy several criteria:-

  • The belief must be genuinely held
  • It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the current state of information available
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Recently, ethical veganism, a belief in the Bible passages at Genesis 1:27, a lack of belief in transgenderism, and a belief in immutable biological sex have all been upheld as being protected beliefs.

How does Religion Discrimination affect someone?

The Equality Act prohibits discrimination because of your religion or belief.  All employees, workers and job applicants are protected from discrimination because of religion or belief.  In line with other discrimination in the workplace, you are protected from:-

  • Direct discrimination – where you are treated less favourably than someone else because you have, or don’t have, a particular religion or belief, or because you associate with someone who has (or doesn’t have) a particular religion or belief, or because you’re perceived as having (or not having) a particular religion or belief.
  • Indirect discrimination – where the employer has a “provision, criterion or practice” that applies to a group of employees (or applicants), but it puts those of a particular religion or belief (or those without a particular religion or belief) at a particular disadvantage compared to others who have (or don’t have) that religion or belief, actually puts you at a disadvantage, and it can’t be objectively justified.
  • Harassment – where unwanted conduct has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for you.
  • Victimisation – where you suffer disadvantage or harm because of (for instance) complaining about discrimination.

What are examples of Religious Discrimination in the Workplace?

Discrimination because of religion or belief could include:-

  • Selecting you for redundancy because you hold (or don’t hold) a particular religion or belief
  • Dismissing you because you hold (or don’t hold) a particular religion or belief
  • Requiring you to wear a particular uniform that isn’t in line with your religious beliefs
  • Refusing to recruit you because you wear religious symbols or items of clothing

A belief does not necessarily need to be one of religion to fall under the protection of the law.

How do I report Religious or Belief Discrimination?

Usually, you will need to raise a grievance at work to report religious discrimination. The first step, as with any potential complaint about something at work, is to check your employer’s grievance procedure which is usually in a staff handbook. The grievance procedure should tell you who you need to raise things with, and what information to include. You will need to set out details of what has happened, who was involved, and why you are unhappy about the way you have been treated

Generally, a grievance should be sent to your line manager and/or HR. if your complaint is about your line manager, then your grievance should usually be sent to their own line manager and/or HR.  Sometimes, you might want to copy other managers into your grievance, but this will depend on the circumstances and what you’re complaining about.

From there, a grievance procedure, will lay out what happens next, but generally your employer should investigate your complaint and have a meeting with you to discuss things fully.  Often, someone will be appointed to investigate your complaint, which could be a manager or an external consultant.  They may run the grievance meeting, or it could be someone else.  As long as it’s dealt with by someone appropriate, that’s the main thing.  If you aren’t happy with the outcome, you should be given a chance to appeal against the grievance decision.

If you don’t get a satisfactory outcome to your grievance after appealing, your next step would be to start Acas Early Conciliation before bringing an Employment Tribunal claim. In a claim, it’s very important to set out your claims with reference to the type of discrimination you think you’ve been subjected to. If you don’t, you may find that your employer demands that you set out the details more clearly or provide further information on your claims. A lawyer will ensure that your claim is fully set out.

How do you Prove Religious Discrimination?

To win an Employment Tribunal claim, you need to have enough evidence to satisfy the Employment Tribunal that without an alternative explanation from your employer, you’ve been discriminated against because of religion or belief.

For instance, you might feel that you were dismissed because of your belief in ethical veganism, but if your employer can show that you were dismissed because you had disclosed confidential information, which was regarded as gross misconduct, your discrimination claim will fail.

How do you settle unfair Discrimination?

Most claims settle before reaching a final Employment Tribunal hearing, for a variety of reasons. At some stage, it’s likely that the parties will take a view on the evidence they’ve each got, and try to negotiate a settlement deal so that the matter never reaches an Employment Tribunal hearing.

In other words, rather than letting an Employment Tribunal decide on whether you’ve satisfied the requirement to prove that religion or belief was the reason for the unfair treatment, there is a decision to be made over how much you’re willing to settle for.  That decision will be based on the strength of your evidence compared to your employer’s and the relative legal costs of settling or going all the way to a hearing.

So, if your employer hasn’t got documentary records showing their investigation into the allegations made against you, or perhaps there are email communications that talk of an intention to dismiss you because you’re an ethical vegan, they may be keener to settle – and for a higher amount. On the other hand, if they have evidence that they conducted a fair disciplinary process, and can show you did commit gross misconduct, you’ve got a much smaller chance of successfully proving that you were selected for redundancy because of religion or belief.

Employment Law Solicitor

If you need more help with the subjects covered here then do reach out to our expert solicitors.  You can leave a comment below, email employment@qlaw.co.uk or call us on 03300 020 863.

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