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The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of religion or belief, which is one of the nine protected characteristics under the Act.
The ACAS guidance is intended to help dispel the common myths that surround religion or belief discrimination and often muddle the legal realities. Here are what we consider the five most interesting points from a legal perspective.
Myth: Employees are only really protected against religion discrimination when they are devout in their faith or work in religion.
Fact: No, they are protected against unfair treatment whether they are devout or not. They can also be protected where their friend holds a particular religion or they are thought to follow that religion, even when they don’t.
Myth: As long as a manager is canny in their questioning in the interview, they can still get away with finding out a job applicant’s religion if they want to.
Fact: Even a question such as ‘Which school did you attend?’ is likely to be seen as discriminatory if fishing for the candidate’s religion and the question is irrelevant.
Myth: An employer’s dress code must be strictly followed, otherwise there’s no point.
Fact: A strict dress code would have to be for very good business reasons to satisfy an employment tribunal. It is better to take into consideration that some employees may wish to dress in a certain way because of their religion or belief.
Myth: An employee can refuse to do aspects of their job because of their religion or belief.
Fact: Not if there are good business reasons why they are part of the job, such as being essential duties, and provided that the employer’s decision is proportionate.
Myth: An employee doesn’t have to follow a rule like having a photo ID pass, if having their photo taken is against their religion or belief.
Fact: Employees should understand that their employer has a right to expect certain things to happen for good business reasons, such as having a photo ID pass for security reasons.
ACAS has also published new guidance on ‘Religion or belief discrimination: key points for the workplace’ and ‘Religion or belief discrimination: ten considerations for employers’. These guidance notes, along with the full list of ten myths, can be found here.