A person's race and religious beliefs are protected characteristics under The Equality Act (2010). This means it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of his or her race or religion.
This principle applies to all aspects of work and employment including:
- Training and development
- Policies dealing with bullying and harassment
- Terms of employment, including pay
- Promotion, transfer and training opportunities
- Dismissal or redundancy
- Discipline and grievances
Employers have a responsibility to ensure that all members of staff are able to do their job effectively in a safe environment, free from hostility and intimidation. Strategies to ensure this could include training around different cultural backgrounds and the impact of racial stereotyping and racial terminology.
Types of discrimination
There are 4 types of discrimination based on a person's race or religion.
Treating someone less favourably because of his or her perceived or actual race or religion, or that of someone they associate with.
This occurs when a policy or procedure applies to all employees but puts people of a specific race or religion at a disadvantage. E.g. a requirement that all job applicants have to have GCSE Maths and English would disadvantage applicants from outside of the UK, if equivalent qualifications were not accepted.
Intimidating, hostile, humiliating or offensive behaviour towards an individual associated with their race or religion.
Unfair treatment of an individual who has made a complaint about race or religious discrimination.
Are all religions or beliefs covered by The Equality Act?
There is no single list of religions or philosophical beliefs that are covered by legislation. Instead, employers are expected to apply the following guidance:
- The belief must be genuinely held and a valued aspect of human character
- It cannot just be an opinion or point of view
- It should hold a certain level of seriousness, consistency and continuity
- It must be compatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others
Accommodating religious beliefs
Sensitivity to the cultural and religious needs of employees can help improve staff engagement and morale. Provisions could include:
- Flexible working to allow for religious holidays and observances
- Providing a prayer room
- Ensuring dietary requirements are met in staff canteens
- Flexible dress codes
When recruiting, an employer can specify that command of a specific language is necessary for business reasons. However, candidates for that role must not be deselected based on assumptions about their race, nationality or ethnic background.
How CABA can help
Call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 to arrange to speak to an expert legal advisor (UK only). All of our services are free, impartial and strictly confidential.
Find out more about your rights and responsibilities in the workplace.