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Discrimination on religious grounds, can be a tricky area to navigate as a person’s religious affiliation is such a big part of their identity.
In a recent case that hit the headlines, a Christian factory worker won his religious discrimination case after being fired for refusing to remove his crucifix necklace while at work. He was asked to take the item off by his line manager as she felt it was deemed a ‘hazard’ at the chicken wholesalers where he worked. When he refused to remove the crucifix, he was fired on the spot.
It’s important to note that there are nuances around this case, there were health and safety implications that could have justified the refusal to wear religious jewellery in the workplace, however the tribunal felt that the employer hadn’t taken steps to prove that they had this justification and criticised the risk assessment process.
As a result, the tribunal who heard the worker’s case concluded that the policy and its application was “indirectly discriminatory”.
This case demonstrates the need for employers to create systems and policies that safeguard against not only blatant religious discrimination but also more subtle forms of religious discrimination.
According to a survey by ComRes Faith Research Centre, around one million UK employees have experienced discrimination because of their religion. Direct religious discrimination is defined as a person being treated less favourably because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief. Indirect religious discrimination is where a policy, practice or applies to everyone in the same way but has a worse effect on certain people because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief, than others. As a result, and crucially for employer to note, it does not have to be intentional to be unlawful.
An estimated 4% of UK employees have experienced religious discrimination, while this is a relatively small number, it’s still vital that employers are alert to the potential of religious discrimination occurring in their workplace.
Research has found a significant mismatch between HR policies and actual workplace cultures in relation to religious beliefs and diversity. Only 25% of workers agree that their organisations promote an understanding of religious beliefs and diversity, according to a report from consultancy ComRes. In contrast, almost all the HR managers surveyed said their organisations promoted religious inclusion and diversity, these stats show a clear discrepancy between talk and action.
It’s important for companies and employers to have effective tools in place to safeguard against any discrimination claims and protect their employees. It’s not good enough to just have a policy, employees expect more; employers and HR need to introduce practices that prevent and proactively tackle workplace discrimination. This means investing in training and awareness and ensuring that management at all levels are leading by example – creating a safe working environment and a positive culture where discrimination, and other unacceptable behaviours, are actively called out and eradicated.
There are many ways that companies and employers can tackle religious discrimination right from the pre-interview stage. Investing in recruitment software and processes that anonymise candidates, using various screening and assessment tools to remove personal prejudice, introducing minimum gender and diversity quotas at interview stage, providing regular, in-depth anti-discrimination training, and using diversity, equity, and inclusion data to help identify potential areas that need improvement. We also can’t underestimate the importance of building a company culture of understanding, tolerance and empathy.
Whether facing a possible legal claim for discrimination, it’s essential for businesses and their employees to take proactive action to seek legal advice at an early stage. It’s particularly important for employees, who only have up to three months to bring claims for discrimination in the workplace, so if they have been discriminated against, they must act fast to seek justice.
Experts, like our team of Legal Advisors at Arc Legal, can help to navigate this extremely complex area of the law and ensure that the right steps are taken. Contact us to find out more about our expert Legal Assistance Helpline service and how we can support your clients at their time of need.
Michael Jenkins, Head of Legal Advice, Arc Legal Group
To find out more about Family Legal Protection, please contact your Partnerships Manager or email [email protected].