The Equality Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against or treat somebody unfairly because of their religious or philosophical belief or lack of religious or philosophical belief.
Religion under the Equality Act can mean any religion so both organised religion and small religious may constitute a religious belief. However, the belief must have a clear structure and belief system.
In order to constitute a philosophical belief, certain conditions must be met. For example, the belief must be a weighty and substantial aspect of human life, worthy of respect in a democratic society and not conflicting with the fundamental rights of others. Philosophical beliefs include Atheism.
There is no hierarchy between any religious and philosophical beliefs- all protected beliefs are equal.
The four types of protection under the act are:
This is when someone is treated less favourably because of their religious or philosophical belief. Direct discrimination may also cover:
- Discrimination by Perception: This occurs when someone thinks you hold a particular religious or philosophical belief.
- Discrimination by Association: This occurs when you are discriminated against because you are connected to someone who has a religious belief.
Occurs where there is a policy, practice or procedure which applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages people of a particular religious belief or philosophical belief.
Indirect discrimination in this context can be permitted provided that the organisation or employer can show that the policy or way of working is necessary for the way the business operates.
This is unwanted conduct related to religious or philosophical belief that has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
Harassment can never be justified. However, you cannot claim against an organisation or employer if they can show that they did everything it could to prevent people who work for it from behaving in that way. However, you may still be able to claim against the harasser.
Victimisation is when you are treated badly because they have made, or has supported who has made, a complaint about discrimination based on religious or philosophical beliefs.
Employment and religious belief
Employers do not have to give workers time off or facilities for religious observance, but they should try to accommodate them whenever possible. Many employers find that being sensitive to the cultural and religious needs of their employees makes good business sense. This can mean making provisions for:
- Flexible working
- Religious holidays and time off to observe festivals and ceremonies
- Prayer rooms with appropriate hygiene facilities
- Dietary requirements in staff canteens and restaurants
- Dress requirements
Information and Support
Equality Advisory Support Helpline
Acas’ report on religion or belief discrimination: key points for the workplace
Return to our main page on protected characteristics.