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Religion or belief: a guide to the law

January 18, 2017

rabagttlThis guide is for employers across the private and public sectors.

It provides an overview of the protections offered by the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 of people with or without a religion or belief. It answers commonly asked questions such as what is indirect discrimination and can it ever be justified, and how much employers are expected to know about religion or belief in order to fulfil their legal obligations.


If you are a private sector employer carrying out public functions – for example, a security firm contracted by a public body to transport prisoners – then the Human Rights Act applies directly to you when carrying out those public functions. If you do not exercise public functions then the Act applies indirectly as the courts have to interpret UK laws to comply with Article 9 wherever possible. For example, when an employment tribunal is deciding whether a private sector employer has discriminated against an employee because of religion or belief, it will use Article 9 to help it decide how the Equality Act 2010 should apply to the case.

A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but it must affect how a person lives their life or perceives the world.

For a philosophical belief to be protected under the Act it must:

be genuinely held

be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available

be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour

attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and

be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with fundamental rights of others. For example, Holocaust denial, or the belief in racial superiority are not protected.

Beliefs such as humanism, pacifism, vegetarianism and the belief in man-made climate change are all protected.

For example, an employer requires all employees to work on Sundays. An employee asks not to work on Sundays for religious reasons as this would disadvantage them and others who share their religion. In these circumstances the employer would need to consider:

the impact on the business if the rule is not applied to this employee (for example, work rotas may be flexible enough to allow employees to swap Sunday working for other shifts so there is no real impact on the business)

the impact on the employee’s colleagues, who may have to cover additional duties, and the costs, the effect on resource allocation and the other implications of agreeing to this request.

Are the harassment provisions in the Act relevant when delivering a service?

No. The harassment provisions in the Act do not apply to religion or belief in services or public functions. For example, a Muslim man visits his local takeaway regularly. Every time he goes in, one of the staff makes comments about him not eating pork. He finds this offensive and upsetting. As staff make the comment when delivering a service to him he would not be able to bring a claim of harassment under the Act. However, those comments are likely to amount to direct discrimination if he can show he was treated worse in the way the service was provided because of religion or belief.

It is online here

The full report is here

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