It would be nice to think your religion shouldn’t matter at work. Unless you’re a committed Buddhist who wants to work in an abattoir or you want to be a Methodist and professional gambler, how much of your faith comes into your work should be up to you.
Unfortunately this sometimes isn’t the case. When that happens, what are your rights?
The rules that prevent religious discrimination in the workplace are the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations. According to the regulations, an employer can’t treat you less favourably because of your faith. This covers everything from choosing not to employ someone to refusing to train them or making them work different hours because of what believe.
As well as direct discrimination, employers can’t have rules or working conditions that would make it difficult for members of a particular religion to work somewhere. If there is a good reason for the rule, the employer might be in the right but it is always up to them to prove there is, not you to prove there isn’t.
It might sound obvious that it’s illegal for an employer to bully or intimidate you at work. They can’t do that even if it’s not about religion. But it might be surprising to hear they can’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable about your faith, even if it’s by accident.
The law protects you against things like jokes and nicknames if they’re distressing in any work-related setting. That includes office parties, conferences or any other time you’re on the company clock, even if it’s not in your normal hours or usual workplace.
Your employer is responsible for your colleagues as well so be vocal about anything you’re not comfortable with. As the standard punishment is a fine, they’re far more likely to have a quiet word with an insensitive colleague than risk losing a hefty wodge of cash.
According to the Regulations, victimisation is when anyone at work treats you badly for making a complaint, wanting to make a complaint or backing someone else up. This can include anything from giving you the silent treatment or labelling you a ‘troublemaker’ to denying you promotion. If they do, the company and any individuals involved are liable to pay you compensation.
What can they do?
For the most part, if any employer lets your religion come in the way of you doing your job, they’re at fault and need to change how they do things. There are some rare situations in which they can claim a restriction or rule is a Genuine Occupational Requirement and are allowed to keep them.
GORs are situations in which an employer can say that a candidates religion can directly affect their ability to do the job. If you want to become a vicar, for example, the employer is allowed to insist you believe in God.
Even in these situations, it is down to the employer to prove their case. If you’re concerned or really want a job but are told you can’t have it, don’t be afraid to ask. The law’s on your side.