Creating a fairer Britain
In January 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) published its judgments in four combined cases about religious rights in the workplace. The cases were brought by Christians, but the implications of the judgment apply to employees with any religion or belief, or none. The judgment affects employer responsibilities for policies and practices protecting religion or belief rights in the workplace, the rights of employees (including job applicants) and the rights of customers.
The judgments may be referred to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and could be upheld, overturned or modified. In the meantime, we recommend employers should use the new guidance below that includes a selection of examples of requests and how employers might deal with them. You can also take a look at the Questions and Answer section below that addresses some key employer questions.
Religion or Belief in the workplace: a guide for employers following recent European Court of Human Rights judgments
Religion or Belief in the workplace: an explanation of recent European Court of Human Rights judgments
Definition of Religion or Belief: reproduced with permission of Elizabeth Prochaska, Barrister, Matrix Chambers (www.matrixlaw.co.uk)
Q: How will an employer know if a religion or belief is genuine and reasonable?
A: This will be obvious on most occasions, so religion or belief expertise usually will not be required; a religion or belief is more than an opinion or point of view. More scrutiny may be needed where beliefs are obscure, or appear unreasonable or insincere.
Q: What kind of religion or belief requests will an employer need to consider?
A: Common requests include asking for permission to wear certain symbols or forms of dress, time off work for prayers or festivals and adapting work duties to meet religion or belief needs.
Q: What steps should an employer take to deal with a request?
A: Think ahead where possible to review policies and practices that may cause problems, treat requests seriously, permit the request unless there are good reasons to justify refusal.
Q: What questions should employers ask to ensure their approach to a religion or belief request is justified?
A: Striking the right balance between competing considerations means looking at the impact on the business, on the individual making the request, and on other employees and customers if the request is or is not granted. Consider if there is a justifiable need to treat everyone in the same way, or whether different treatment is possible without breaking the law.
Q: Do employees now have a right to promote their particular religion or belief when at work?
A: Only where it is appropriate to do so without causing harassment, imposing their views on others or otherwise abusing a position of power to the detriment of the vulnerable or less powerful.
Q: Can employees refrain from work duties?
A: Yes, if the law explicitly allows this. Otherwise, it depends on the impact on the business, on other employees and on customers. It will not be appropriate where it results in discrimination against employees or customers.