Religious Discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits, at Section 10, discrimination on the basis of a person’s religion or belief.  In general a person is prevented from discrimination if they have a clear structure and belief system.   Such a definition prevents spurious claims on the basis of pseudo religious practices.   The European Human Rights Commission (EHRC) details the following as protected religions;

  • The Baha’i faith,
  • Buddhism
  • Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Islam
  • Jainism
  • Judaism
  • Rastafarianism
  • Sikhism
  • Zoroastrianism

In the case of dispute the courts will decide what constitutes a religion or belief.

Protection of Those Without Faith or Beliefs

Employees who do not hold a religious faith are protected by the Equality Act.  For example, a non-Christian cannot be discriminated against on the grounds that they are not a Christian.

Manifestations of Religion

Preventing a person from manifesting their religion may amount to unlawful discrimination.  Examples of the manifestation of religion might include a Muslim woman wishing to wear the hijab or a Hindu preferring not to eat meat.  It might also include taking particular days of for worship although recent case law has proved that this is a more complex area.

Generally speaking prohibiting a person from exercising their right to observe religious practices will amount to indirect discrimination however there are some notable exceptions:

Exceptions to Religious Discrimination

Genuine Occupational Requirement

In the event that a person of a particular faith is required to undertake a particular role then an employer may consider that the nature of the work and the context within which it is carried has given rise to a genuine occupational requirement for a person of a particular faith.  For example, a care home run on faith based grounds may consider it necessary to choose employes of the same faith in order to meet the needs of their residents.

Positive Action

Taking steps to redress a previous unequal balance in a workforce may be accepted as a reason to discriminate in favour of a particular religious group.  For example, a police force may seek to recruit from a particular religious faith in order to be more representative of the communities that it serves.

Teachers in Denominational Schools

Schools of particular faiths are entitled to employ teachers from the appropriate faith so that they may deliver religious instruction to the children.

Employment for the Purposes of an Organised Religion

Organised religions may discriminate against employees on the basis of their religion and in certain circumstances faith based requirements.

Religious Discrimination – Notable Cases

Eweida v British Airways

This well documented case involved a Christian Worker who was put unpaid leave for contravening the company’s no jewellery policy by wearing a crucifix necklace.  She contended that her necklace was no different to the religious garments worn by Muslim and Sikh employees.  Initially losing her case, Eweida was eventually successful after taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights which found that British Airways had failed to find the correct balance between enforcing its corporate uniform policy and allowing an employee her religious beliefs.

Monaghan v Leicester Young Men’s Christian Association

In this case it was found that it was not religious discrimination for a person to be prevented from evangelising at work about their faith.

Khan v Direct Line Insurance Plc

In this case the Claimant contended that he had suffered religious discrimination when his employer offered bottles of wine as incentives to sales staff.  Mr Khan did not drink alcohol on the grounds of his religious faith.  Mr Khan’s case was dismissed because many non-muslims do not drink alcohol and he would have only been in the same position as them, as such he was not discriminated against on the basis of his religion.

London Borough of Islington v Ladele 2009

This case, which was broadcast in the media at the time involved a Christian registrar refused to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies on religious grounds.