Last updated: June 7, 2023
Religious and belief discrimination at work
Over the past century, the UK population has become increasingly diverse, resulting in a broad range of different religions and beliefs across workplaces.
Religious and belief discrimination is where someone is treated less favourably because of the religion they follow/don’t follow, or the faith (religious or philosophical) they believe in/don’t believe in.
What does the law say?
People who experience discrimination because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief are protected under the Equality Act 2010.
Different types of religious discrimination
It is vital to understand the different types of religion and belief discrimination so that you know what your rights are under the Equality Act 2010. They are as follows:
- Direct discrimination – When you are treated less favourably because of your religion/belief, you are associated with someone who belongs to a religion or has religious beliefs, when someone thinks you belong to a certain religion or belief or because you don't belong to a religion/belief.
- Indirect discrimination – When a practice, policy or rule applies to everyone, but puts religious/non-religious people at a disadvantage.
- Harassment – When you experience unwanted behaviour because of your beliefs that either violates your dignity or has created a hostile work environment.
- Victimisation – When you are treated differently or less favourably because you are involved with a religious discrimination or harassment complaint.
Religion and religious/philosophical beliefs
To be protected under the Equality Act 2010 from discrimination, there are definitions for religion and beliefs:
- Religion – this can be any religion (or a lack of religion)
- Belief – this can be any religious or philosophical belief (or a lack of belief). See below for more information.
Religious beliefs can vary between person-to-person, and even within the same religion. Under the Equality Act 2010, this term is used to protect people with specific beliefs, as opposed to their religion in general. Religious beliefs must:
- Be genuinely held.
- Not be based off an opinion or viewpoint.
- Be worthy of respect in democratic society.
- Not conflict with the rights of others.
- Have a weighty and substantial view of human life and behaviour.
- Have a level of clarity and importance.
Philosophical beliefs have the same requirements to religious beliefs to be recognised under the Equality Act 2010 but must also share a similar status to a religious belief.
Philosophical beliefs also don’t need to be necessarily shared by others.
Philosophical beliefs can also be deemed unrelated to religious views to be covered under grounds of discrimination – for example, supporting a political party, belief in climate change, or ethical veganism. It is important to note that employees aren’t automatically given protections for a philosophical belief – instead they assessed on a case-by-case basis if someone believes they are being discriminated because of their belief.
Where do I find my workplace’s policy on discrimination?
This should be in the same place your workplace houses all your workplace policy on discrimination.
This should be somewhere easily accessible such as a staff handbook or company intranet.
It should outline how your employer deals with discrimination complaints and who to send your complaint to.
Who can experience religion or belief discrimination?
If you experience discrimination at work, this can be from anyone you encounter because of your job, including:
- Your employer, manager, or anyone else who is in a position of authority at your place of work.
- A member of the public like a client, customer, or member.
It is your employer’s responsibility to take steps to prevent discrimination because of a religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief from happening, and act when it does.
What constitutes as religion or belief discrimination?
Religion and belief discrimination can occur in person or online via email, social media, or messaging apps. This can occur as a one-off incident, or regularly. This can take on many forms, ranging from obvious discrimination to less obvious interactions. The following can constitute:
- Making inappropriate comments about a person’s religion or beliefs.
- Telling jokes which are offensive to people of certain religious groups.
- Disadvantaging people because of their religion or beliefs, or lack of religion or beliefs.
- Using discriminatory language about someone’s religion or faith, or a group of people from a specific religion.
- Viewing people from certain religions or not belonging to certain religions as inferior.
- Bullying someone for their belief/lack of belief.
- Being hostile toward someone because of their religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief.
- Hiring/not hiring someone because/lack of of religious beliefs.
- Making an employee redundant over someone else, because of their belief/lack of belief.
- Dismissing an employee because of their religion/lack of religion.
- Enacting workplace policies that unfairly disadvantage people who belong/don't belong to certain religious faiths.
- Refusing to promote someone because of their/lack of beliefs.
Even if the perpetrator of the discrimination considers their behaviour to be a joke, it is still classified as religion and belief discrimination if their behaviour is:
- Of a discriminatory nature.
- Violating yours or someone else’s dignity or creates an intimidating or degrading environment at work.
Discrimination typically directed at an individual or group of individuals, but some workplaces can normalise a culture of religion or belief discrimination e.g., discriminatory inappropriate “banter” between colleagues. You can still make a complaint of discrimination in this situation.
I am facing religion or belief discrimination at work. What do I do?
If you are the target of religion or faith based discrimination at work, we recommend you do the following:
- Speak to your union (us!) or your local union rep.
- Make a complaint to your employer (remember, it is their legal duty to protect your wellbeing at work).
- Keep a note of any instances of discrimination, including dates/times or witnesses.
- Speak up – don’t be afraid to challenge prejudice and confront discrimination at work, if you feel safe to do so.
How do I make a complaint?
We would first advise that you speak with your trade union rep to receive support when making a formal complaint about being the victim of discrimination at work.
Your employer may have their own discrimination policy to deal with any religion or belief based discrimination in the workplace, so you should follow that procedure to raise a grievance.
My complaint is not being dealt with. What can I do?
If you have raised a formal grievance or the problem has not been resolved, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal. You should inform Community immediately if you intend to do this as our legal team may be able to provide advice and support you through this process.
I have witnessed religion/belief discrimination at work. What should I do?
If you witness discrimination at work because of someone’s religion or belief, or lack of religion or belief, we will always recommend that if you feel safe to do so, speak out against it. No one should feel afraid to confront discrimination in the workplace and by speaking out, you may also encourage other employees, and your employer to contribute to a more inclusive work environment.
Following an incident of religion or belief discrimination, you can:
- Talk to the victim and offer your support.
- Support any complaints made by the victim.
- Report the incident to your trade union rep and/or employer.
- Make a discrimination complaint yourself if the incident has created an intimidating or degrading environment at work.
- Keep a note of any instances of discrimination, including dates/times or witnesses.
- Become a Community Equalities Rep and help us fight against religion and belief discrimination across the UK.
If you need help or advice, please contact us at email@example.com or on 0800 389 6332.
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