Religion and Belief Discrimination

Under the Equality Act of 2010 “religion” is defined as including religion, religious belief and philosophical belief. The act prohibits discrimination because of religion, belief or lack of religion or belief. Discrimination covers four areas.

Direct religion or belief discrimination is where someone is treated less favourably because of religion or belief and this also includes treating someone less favourably because of a perception, which could be right or wrong, that they may have a particular belief or belong to a certain religion or because of their association with someone of a certain religion or belief. Direct discrimination would also apply when someone refuses to follow an instruction that is discriminatory on the grounds of belief or religion.

Indirect discrimination is where a provision, practice or criteria which applies to everyone irrespective of religion or belief, leads to the disadvantage of an individual or group of individuals of one religion or belief more than to those individuals or groups of other religions or beliefs. If this causes an individual to be disadvantaged and the provision, practice and criteria is not deemed a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim then this would be indirect discrimination.

Harassment is defined as unwanted conduct relating to religion or belief for the purpose, or has the effect, of violating a persons dignity, or creating a hostile, intimidating, humiliating, offensive or degrading environment for that person.

Victimisation is where someone who has brought a claim for discrimination or supported someone who has brought a claim and is treated less favourably because of this.

The law defines religion or belief discrimination as any religion, religious or philosophical belief and there is no specific list of what religious or belief discrimination is. It includes all major religions, as well as less widely practised ones. To be protected under the Equality Act a philosophical belief must be

  • genuinely held
    a belief with regard to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour

  • a belief and not a viewpoint or opinion based on the present state of information available

  • have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance

  • worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Examples of philosophical beliefs would be atheism and humanism.

In very limited circumstances there are occupational requirements that would allow an employer to seek to recruit someone of a specific religion.

Many employers regard being sensitive to the religious and cultural needs of their employees as good business practice and although employers are not required to give time off or provide facilities for religious observance it is good practice to try to accommodate this when possible. This can mean looking at

  • time off for religious observance, holidays and ceremonies

  • flexible working

  • the provision of rooms that can be used for prayer and appropriate hygiene facilities

  • dress requirements

  • food provision and dietary choices in catering facilities

Remedies for a successful discrimination claim include a declaration, recommendations and compensation and employers are advised to follow good practice, although they remain vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.