Religion in the Work Place
It's often said that there are three things you shouldn't discuss in the workplace: sex, politics, and religion. But when it comes to spirituality, it's not always as simple as agreeing to avoid the topic. That's because faith can often affect employees on the job in unexpected ways.
Religion impacts not just employee values but also lifestyles. Such differences can put employees at odds with one another. It can also create conflict regarding their assigned job duties, dress codes, scheduling, and other workplace issues as people struggle to honor their commitment to their faith.
The Employment Act 2002 requires all employers, however large or small, to have both a disciplinary procedure and a grievance procedure.
I've found that disagreements involving employee religion can be among the most contentious. People can truly dig their heels in and refuse to see other perspectives. Here's what you need to know about spirituality at work.
A gulf seems to be forming between those who self-identify as religious and those who do not, and this widening difference has implications for the workplace.
In the context of employment, changing patterns mean that there is ample opportunity for conflict as diversity continues to grow.
About 77% of the population identifies themselves as Christian. However, there is remarkable internal diversity among even individual Christian denominations. Additionally, there are small percentages of adherents to Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions.
What does religion or belief mean
You are protected by law from discrimination because of your religion or belief if you:
- Belong to an organised religion such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam
- Have a profound belief which affects your way of life or view of the world. This includes religious and philosophical beliefs, or a lack of belief, such as Atheism
- Take part in collective worship
- Belong to a smaller religion or sect, such as Scientology or Rastafarianism
- Have no religion, for example, if you are an atheist.
The law against discrimination because of religion or belief does not cover purely political beliefs unless they are also philosophical beliefs.
You are protected if someone discriminates against you because they think you are a certain religion, when you are not. For example, it's against the law for someone to discriminate against you for wearing a headscarf because they think you are a Muslim, even if you are not actually Muslim.
Discrimination by association is also against the law. For example, it is against the law to refuse to let you into a restaurant because of the religion of someone who is with you.
Positive Action. Selection for recruitment or promotion must be on
merit, irrespective of religion or belief. However, it is possible to take
certain steps to redress the effects of previous inequality of
opportunity. This is called positive action. Employers may give special
encouragement to, or provide specific training for people from religions
or beliefs who are in a minority in the workplace. Employers may wish
to consider positive measures such as
• Training their existing employees for work which has historically been
the preserve of individuals from a particular religion or belief;
• Advertisements which encourage applications from a minority religion
but making it clear that selection will be on merit without reference to
religion or belief.
Duty to Accommodate an Employee's Religion
Employees should ensure that religion and belief are included in their
Equality Policy. It is a good idea to revisit the Equality Policy from time
to time to ensure it has not become outdated, to test any new
employment policies and procedures for discrimination and to ensure
the policy itself meets current legislation requirements.
Staff need to be made aware (through training, noticeboards,
circulars, contracts of employment, etc) that it is not only
unacceptable to discriminate, harass or victimise someone on the
grounds of religion or belief, it is also unlawful. Organisations should
also make it clear that they will not tolerate such behaviour. Staff
should know what to do if they believe they have been discriminated
against or harassed, or if they believe someone else is being
discriminated against or harassed, and this should be included in the
grievance procedure. Organisations should also consider adding all
forms of discrimination and harassment (religion or belief, sex, race,
disability, gender reassignment and sexual orientation) to their
disciplinary rules which should also include bullying. It is good practice
to include age in your policies ahead of age discrimination becoming
unlawful in October 2006.
While employers have a duty to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees, the employer does have some leeway in how it conducts its business. There is a point where the changes that are required to accommodate an employee become too burdensome on the employer. Most likely, a request by an employee to trade shifts when his or her faith prevents working on Saturdays is likely to be reasonable. However, less reasonable might be a request that an employee have a particular holy month off each year. Whether an employer's policy that limits the conduct of members of a particular faith is unreasonable depends on the circumstances. For example, a restaurant owner may require its cooks to wear hairnets or short hair, even if this creates an inconvenience for members of a faith that does not allow them to cut their hair. A job may also have certain qualifications or requirements that have the effect of limiting participation by a particular religious faith. For example: A radio station that played rock and roll music, would be allowed to fire a disc jockey who refused to play rock and roll because it was against his religion.
What can I do if I am being treated unfairly or bullied at work?
If you are being treated unfairly or bullied at work because of your religion or belief, take action as quickly as possible. You could try:
- telling the person to stop
- telling your manager or someone else higher up in the organisation
- talking to your personnel department or trade union.
If none of these things work, you may wish to raise a grievance and think about making a claim to an employment tribunal.
There are strict time-limits and procedures for making a claim to an employment tribunal.