In the UK, most workplaces will have employees with a wealth of different religions. Legally, employers can’t discriminate against employees on religious grounds but indirect discrimination may still happen. Here we explain the law surrounding religion in the workplace and how you can go one step further to accommodate your employee’s religious beliefs.

What does the law say?

Thankfully we have laws to protect people from religious discrimination and this includes discrimination in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 makes it against the law to treat someone unfairly because of their religion or belief, it also protects people from being discriminated against for their lack of religion.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) provide a useful breakdown of the pertinent information from the Equality Act that describes the features of the protected characteristic of religion or belief. These include:

  • employees are protected against discrimination because they have a religious faith or a philosophical belief, as well as because they don’t
  • no one religion or branch of a religion overrides another – so, for example, an employee is protected against discrimination by someone of another religion, or of the same religion or of a different branch or practice of their religion
  • a philosophical belief must meet certain conditions including being a weighty and substantial aspect of human life, worthy of respect in a democratic society and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others
  • all protected beliefs are equal – whether religious or philosophical.

Accommodating Religions in the Workplace

Where could discrimination occur?

There are three main areas where discrimination could occur. Care should be taken not break the laws that protect people from religious discrimination but also to accommodate religion so that employees feel welcome in the workplace; no matter what their beliefs are.

Recruitment – most complaints of discrimination come from recruitment. Discrimination can happen at any point during the recruitment process, from job ads to candidate selection, and interviews. People should not be hired, or not, based on religion. Religion should not be part of the recruitment process at all.

Taking time off – employees may wish to take time off work for religious reasons. Handle this in a sensible way by assessing if allowing time off would really affect business. Refusing a request without a good business reason could amount to discrimination.

Dress code – take into consideration that some employees may wish to dress in a certain way or avoid certain styles because of their religion or belief. You should be reasonable about an employee’s needs but also take health and safety into account.

Accommodating religion in the workplace

Aside from the legal reasons for treating employees fairly, consider adopting a few simple practices that will mean employees feel welcome and cared about in your business.

Religion doesn’t need to be a part of the workplace and many people choose to keep their belief private and away from work. That’s fine but there are still things you can do to create a warming environment that makes it clear that religion is welcome in your business.

Here are some ideas:

Create shared calendars that employees have access to could also include religious holidays. In addition to Christmas, mark out other important religious celebrations such as Eid, Diwali, and Rosh Hashanah. Adding a diverse mix of events to calendars reminds employees that colleagues have important times coming up and provides an opportunity to join in.

Plan inclusive social events that do not exclude others who don’t for example, drink alcohol. Some people do not feel comfortable in environments where alcohol is present so if the only social event your business holds is in a pub, try and plan other events that are away from bars or clubs.

Make room in the workplace for religious spaces such as prayer rooms. These places do not have to be devoted solely to religion but just need to be quiet areas where an employee can escape for five minutes. To avoid interruptions, create signs that can be hung on doors when a room is in use.

Celebrate holidays! There is no reason why all religious events can’t be celebrated in your workplace. Encourage employees to bring in food to share, or discuss the importance of their celebration. Other employees will enjoy learning something new and the chance to get to know their colleagues better.

Most importantly though, ensure that you have a zero tolerance policy towards religious discrimination. If you see any problems developing, nip them in the bud and educate your employees. The same applies to any other sort of discrimination. Make it clear that your business is a place where everyone can come to work and carry out their job regardless of their religious beliefs.