The treatment may be initiated as a one-time event or as a result of a rule or policy. It is not necessary for an act to be intentional to be illegal.
There are certain circumstances in which discrimination on the basis of religion or belief is legal, as explained below.
According to the 2010 Equality Act, you cannot be discriminated against for the following reasons:
You belong to (or are not a member of) a particular religion.
You espouse (or abstain from espousing) a particular philosophical belief.
Someone believes you are a member of a particular religion or adhere to a particular set of beliefs (this is known as discrimination by perception)
You are related to someone who practices a religion or holds a belief (this is known as discrimination by association)
Religion or belief can refer to any religion, including organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism, as well as smaller religions such as Rastafarianism or Paganism, as long as they have a distinct structure and belief system.
Additionally, the Equality Act protects against non-belief or a lack of religion or belief. For instance:
While the Equality Act protects Christians from discrimination based on their Christian beliefs, it also protects people of other religions and those who do not practice any religion from discrimination based on their beliefs.
According to the Equality Act, a philosophical belief must be more than an opinion. It must be persuasive, serious, and pertain to a critical aspect of human life or behavior. For instance:
An employee is a firm believer in man-made climate change and believes that they have a responsibility to live their lives in such a way that their impact on the earth is minimized in order to help save it for future generations: This would be considered a conviction and would be protected under the Equality Act.
Additionally, the Equality Act states that a belief must be respectable in a democratic society and not infringe on other people’s fundamental rights. For instance:
If an employee believes white people are a superior race to others and communicates this to their coworkers, this would not be considered a protected belief under the Equality Act.
There are few major categories of discrimination based on religion or belief.
Discrimination on an explicit basis
This occurs when you are treated less favorably than another person in a comparable situation due to your religion or belief.
Discrimination can occur even when both the discriminator and the victim share a common religious or philosophical belief.
Discrimination in an indirect manner
Indirect discrimination occurs when an organization has a policy or method of operation that is universally applicable but disadvantages you because of your religion or belief. For instance:
You are Jewish, and you end your workday early on Fridays to observe the Sabbath. Your manager has shifted weekly team meetings from Wednesday to Friday afternoons, and as a result, you are frequently absent.
Indirect religion or belief discrimination is permissible, but the organization or employer must demonstrate that the policy or method of operation is necessary for the operation of the business.
According to the European Convention on Human Rights, everyone has the right to manifest their religion or belief. That means you have the right to wear specific articles of clothing or symbols at work to demonstrate your religion or belief, even if other members of your religion do not. For instance:
Some Christians wear crucifixes to demonstrate their Christianity, but not all Christians do.
However, because that human right is qualified, an employer may prohibit you from wearing specific articles of clothing or symbols if they are required for the job you are performing. For instance:
A teacher is asked to discontinue wearing a floor-length garment due to its trip hazard potential. If this is necessary to safeguard employee health and safety and there is no feasible alternative, it may be justified.
A Sikh man is employed in the food preparation industry. His employer has a policy prohibiting the wearing of headgear and requiring employees to wear hair nets. This is not justified if a practical alternative that complies with the business’s health and safety requirements exists, such as wearing a new or freshly washed turban for each shift.
Harassment occurs when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended, or degraded in the workplace
Harassment is never acceptable. However, if an organization or employer can demonstrate that it took all reasonable steps to prevent its employees from behaving in that manner, you will be unable to bring a claim for harassment against the organization or employer, but you may bring a claim against the harasser.
Outside of the workplace, the rules against harassment do not apply. However, if you are harassed or subjected to offensive treatment outside of work as a result of your religion or belief, this may constitute direct discrimination. For instance:
A Muslim man frequents his neighborhood takeaway. Each time he enters, a member of staff makes a remark about him being a terrorist. This is offensive and upsetting to him.
This is when you are treated badly as a result of filing a complaint under the Equality Act about religion or belief-based discrimination. Additionally, it may occur if you are assisting someone who has filed a complaint alleging religious or belief-based discrimination. For instance:
A supervisor has harassed a woman at work because she wears a hijab. Her coworker witnessed this and is assisting her with her harassment claim. A coworker is threatened with termination. This would constitute victimization, as the coworker is defending her colleague’s harassment claim.
Circumstances in which discrimination on the basis of religion or belief is permissible
In employment situations, a difference in treatment may be legal if:
Being a member of a particular religion is a requirement of the job; this is referred to as an occupational requirement. For instance, a prison chaplain serving Methodist inmates may be required to be a practicing member of that faith.
An organization takes positive action to promote or develop a group of people with a particular religion or belief who are underrepresented or disadvantaged in a particular role or activity.
A faith-based school employs some of its faculty on the basis of their religion.
An organization with a religious or belief-based ethos limits job opportunities to members of that religion or belief. For instance, a Humanist organization that advocates for Humanist principles and beliefs may specify that its Chief Executive Officer must be a Humanist. However, it is not legal to limit job opportunities to members of a particular religion or belief unless the nature or context of the work requires it.
The circumstances fall within one of the Equality Act’s other exceptions, which permit employers to discriminate in their treatment or services on the basis of religion or belief.
A difference in treatment may be legal in circumstances other than the workplace, such as the following:
A faith school uses religious criteria to give children of a particular religion priority in admissions.
A religious or belief organization limits membership and participation in its activities, as well as the provision of goods, facilities, and services, to members of a specific religion or belief. This only applies to organizations whose sole or primary purpose is not commercial, such as those that practice, promote, or teach a religion or belief. Only the following restrictions are permissible:
if the organization’s purpose is to provide services to a single religion or belief
if necessary to avoid offending individuals who share the organization’s religion or beliefs
An organization takes positive action to support or develop a group of people with a religion or belief who are underrepresented or disadvantaged in a particular activity.
The circumstances fall within one of the Equality Act’s other exceptions, which permit organizations to discriminate in their treatment or services on the basis of religion or belief.