WORK-LIFE BALANCE / JAN. 10, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Religion in The Workplace

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Religion in the workplace has been a matter of debate for quite some time and with such a multicultural world it’s important that employers treat all religious beliefs and faiths equally. 

Some people think that faith should be a private matter, but arguably, many religious practices affect a lot of day-to-day life, including how people operate in the workplace.

Complaints from fellow employees are not uncommon, whether it’s accusations of taking more time off due to religious holidays or The Sabbath, or regular breaks in the day for prayers.

Letting employers know in the interview process about your faith is also a little worrying, as days off, or an earlier finish can result in a prejudice decision as to who to hire. Sometimes, employers do not always employ the right candidate for the job, but the one they think will ‘fit in’ better. 

Though extra time off may not sound appealing to employers it is unlawful to discriminate against someone due to their religious background or faith. In fact, adapting and accommodating to religious beliefs can improve certain aspects of your business. Morale can be improved, as engaging with staff and their beliefs is a positive thing to do and will help employees become happier and more comfortable in their workplace. It can also help improve recruitment and retention and provide your business with a positive public image. Financially speaking it can also help, as you will be lowering your risk of a tribunal. A recent study also discovered that those with religious faiths are actually less anxious and tired in the workplace, which ultimately leads to a healthier and happier workplace!

Some factors that employers may expect and should take into account are:

  • Prayer time
  • Food and fasting
  • Holy days and festivals
  • Religious dress and symbols

Though it is unlawful to discriminate against those with religious backgrounds, it is within an employer’s right to assess the following (but be warned that you will probably end up in a workplace tribunal if you do raise issues):

  • Financial cost
  • Impact on business
  • Inconvenience to other employees
  • Tension with other members of staff

So, if you do practice a religion, what are your rights in the workplace and how can you avoid being discriminated against? Well, firstly let’s define what I mean by ‘practicing a religion’. Religion is defined as a religious belief or comparable philosophical belief. However, this does not include philosophical beliefs that are not similar to religious beliefs. If problems do occur in the workplace and a tribunal takes place, the Employment Tribunal is responsible for defining what is and is not a religion.   

The law dictates that it is illegal to discriminate against anyone indirectly or directly, treat someone less favorably than others, harass or victimize a person during their employment, because of a religious belief or faith.

If you encounter any problems with regards to your religious beliefs and the workplace, it’s best to first discuss these issues with your employer and/or HR department. If the matter is not resolved you have the right to take the matter to court.

If you would like further information about your rights in the workplace with regards to religion, click here.

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