Implementing the Law on Religion, Faith and Belief a practical guide

We should ensure that religion and belief are included in their

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We 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to time to ensure it has not become outdated, to test any new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, notice boards,

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. All strands of equality are included in the Council’s grievance and disciplinary procedures.



13. Must organisations have an Equality Policy?
Whilst organisations do not have to have an Equality Policy,

implementing and observing such a policy is an established means

of demonstrating that an employer has taken reasonably practicable

steps to prevent employees discriminating against or harassing other

employees. The policy should set out minimum standards of behaviour

expected of all staff through recruitment and onwards and what staff

can expect of the organisation. It acts as a reminder, gives staff

confidence that they will be treated with dignity and respect, and may

be used as an integral part of a grievance or disciplinary process if


If organisations do not have an Equality Policy and would like help in

putting in place an effective policy Acas can help.

14. Do the Regulations cover all religions and beliefs?

It is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of

religion, religious belief, perceived religion or religious belief, or similar

philosophical belief. Political beliefs are specifically excluded from

these Regulations. It is as unlawful to discriminate against a person for not holding a specific religion or belief as it is to discriminate against someone for

actually holding to or subscribing to a particular religion or belief.

15. Do these Regulations cover all workers?

A The Regulations apply to all workers, including office holders, police,

barristers, partners in a business and members of the armed forces.

They also cover related areas such as membership of trade

organisations, the award of qualifications, the services of careers

guidance organisations, employment agencies and vocational training

providers, including further and higher education institutions.

The Regulations cover anyone who applies to an organisation for

work, or who already works for an organisation whether they are

directly employed or work under some other kind of contract or are an

agency worker. Organisations are also responsible for the behaviour of TLY D their staff towards an individual working for someone else but on their

premises, for example someone from another organisation repairing a

piece of equipment.

Workers are sometimes harassed by third parties, such as customers

or clients. Where possible, organisations should protect their staff from

such harassment and should take steps to deal with actual or

potential situations of this kind. This will enhance the organisation’s

reputation as a good employer and make the organisation a

welcoming and safe place to work. Many organisations provide visitors and visiting workers with guidance on Health and Safety matters. It may be appropriate to include some comments in any policy your organisation has on harassment. QUESTIONS 27

16. Do organisations have to ask about someone’s religion or belief at interview?

No. Interviews are about finding out whether someone has the right

skills for the job. Personal questions about an individual’s beliefs

should not be asked unless they are relevant to the duties of the job in

question. It is good practice not to ask any personal questions at

interview unless it is to make sure that appropriate adjustments are

made for anyone with a disability.

Organisations do not have to employ people whose beliefs mean they

are unable to undertake essential parts of the job. It should be made

clear to candidates what type of work the organisation does and what

duties the job involves so they can consider whether there is any

chance it might conflict with their religion or beliefs.

Example: An individual applying for a job in a large supermarket stacking

shelves may not be willing to handle pork products for religious reasons.

Such products probably represent only a small proportion of the goods

displayed on the shelves. It may not be reasonable to reject such job

applicants if it is practicable to allocate work in a way that does not

involve handling pork products.

However, it may not be practical for the store to adjust the work of a checkout operative in order that they are not required to handle pork products.

Example: A waiter who is a Sikh may not be prepared to serve meat

which has not been slaughtered in a manner he or she considers to be

humane. In this case, redistribution of the work may not be possible if

the restaurant serves such meat and it may be reasonable to reject the

job application on the grounds of religion or belief.

If an organisation changes the type of work it does they should give

careful consideration to the effect it may have on their staff for reasons

of religion or belief. Early consultation with staff and/or their trade

union will usually result in a mutually acceptable arrangement.
17. Do organisations have to collect data on religion or belief?
The Regulations do not require the collection of such data but it may

help organisations to provide appropriate facilities for their staff and to

understand employees’ needs (e.g. when they might seek annual

leave). It is important that managers talk to people and/or their trades

unions to ensure an understanding of individual needs and to avoid

making assumptions about them. Not all followers of each religion or

belief will necessarily have the same practices or follow their religion in

exactly the same way.

If an organisation decides to collect data, it may give staff added

confidence if it is made clear why they want the information, how it is

going to be used and that giving such information is entirely voluntary.

All such information should be confidential and anonymous. It is

designated ‘sensitive’ under the Data Protection Act 1998. Staff

permission should be obtained before using such information.

18. How will organisations know if they are discriminating inadvertently?
Individual staff, or their trade union, will generally tell managers,

particularly if managers are able to create a culture whereby staff feel comfortable in sharing such information. It can be helpful for

organisations to have a designated individual to whom people can go

in confidence. It is a good idea for management teams, staff

representatives or a specially convened group of employees to think

through and test whether any organisational policies and procedures

impact on people’s religion or belief, or discriminate on any other

grounds such as disability, sexual orientation, sex or race. It is good

practice to include age in your equality policies ahead of age

discrimination becoming unlawful in October 2006.

Organisations should consider carefully whether they are inadvertently

discriminating indirectly. For example, if team meetings always take

place on a Friday afternoon this may discriminate against Jewish and

Muslim staff for whom Friday afternoon has a particular religious

significance, although not everyone follows their faith in the same way.

Employers will not escape liability in an Employment Tribunal by

showing that discrimination was inadvertent or accidental.
19. No one in my organisation has ever complained of discrimination

or harassment so we don’t need to do anything new, do we?
People do not always feel able or confident enough to complain,

particularly if the harasser is a manager or senior executive.

Sometimes they will simply resign. One way to find out is to undertake

exit interviews when people leave your organisation and as part of that

process to ask if they have ever felt harassed, bullied or discriminated

against at work. If it is possible, exit interviews should be undertaken

by someone out of the individual’s line of management, for instance a

personnel officer.

Discrimination includes harassment which can take place without

management being aware of it. Organisations should make sure all

their staff understand that harassment means any unwanted behaviour

that makes someone feel either intimidated, humiliated or offended

and that includes teasing, tormenting, name calling, etc and applies to

whoever the perpetrator may be. The victim’s perception of the effect

of the behaviour is also important. Managers should take all practical

steps to make sure staff understand that organisations and their

management teams will not tolerate such behaviour and that they will

deal with whoever is causing the problem through the disciplinary

20. Should we ban discussions about religion and belief in the

workplace? We are concerned that someone might complain

about harassment.
If harassment has been explained to staff they should be able to

distinguish between reasonable discussion and offensive behaviour.

Staff should be aware that if their discussions cause offence then this

may be considered to be harassment and therefore unlawful. A ban on

discussions about religion or belief may create more bad feeling

amongst staff and cause more problems than it solves.

21. Do organisations have to release staff for prayer outside normal rest/break periods or religious festivals?

Organisations do not have to release staff for prayer outside normal

rest breaks or holiday periods. Under the Working Time Regulations

1998, (further details available at Appendix 2) staff are, in general,

entitled to a rest break of not less than 20 minutes where working time

is more than six hours. Staff may request that their rest break coincide

with their religious obligations to pray at certain times of the day.

Employers may be justified in refusing such a request if, for example, it

conflicts with legitimate business needs which they are unable to meet

in any other way. If they are unable to justify such a refusal this may be


The Working Time Regulations also provide that staff are entitled to

not less than four weeks annual leave each . Staff may also request annual leave to coincide with religious festivals. Refusal to grant such leave may be

discriminatory if it cannot be justified by a legitimate business need

which cannot be met by any other reasonable means.

Managers should try to be flexible about when rest breaks or annual

holidays are taken. It is good practice to ensure that staff know how to

request such flexibility and how much reasonable notice is required to

meet their needs. There may be a few jobs where it is not possible to

be flexible but explanation and discussion may enable a compromise

to be achieved. No organisation is expected to accept unreasonable

disruption to its activities. Managers may wish to consider that the

time taken for prayer is rarely longer than that of a tea or coffee break.

Staff needs to understand that they have a responsibility to be reasonable

to both their employer and their colleagues when asking
22. My organisation has rules on personal appearance and dress. Are we in breach of the legislation?

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