A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Religion or belief discrimination

Religious discrimination or belief discrimination

It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your religion or belief. You are also protected against harassment or victimisation at work. Find out about your rights and what you can do if you are treated unfairly because of your religion or belief.

Protection from religious discrimination

There is no specific list that sets out religious discrimination (or belief discrimination). Employment law defines it as any religion, religious or philosophical belief. This includes all major religions, as well as less widely practised ones.

You are also protected against religious discrimination if you do not follow any religion or belief, and your employer discriminates against you because of this. Political beliefs are not counted as a religion or belief for employment law purposes.

If you are not sure what counts as a religion or belief under employment law, you should seek further advice. In some cases you can apply to an Employment Tribunal to decide if you are being discriminated against for your religion or belief (or lack of religion or belief).

You are protected against belief discrimination through any recruitment process and in employment, including your terms and conditions of employment, pay, status, training, promotion and transfer opportunities, redundancy and dismissal and benefits such as pensions.

Employment practices and religion or belief discrimination

Giving information to your employer

You do not have to give information to your employer about your religious beliefs, but if you do, it will help them meet the needs of religious employees. Any information you give should be confidential and anonymous if possible.

Time off and facilities

Your employer does not have to give you time off and facilities for religious observance but they should try to do so where possible. For example, if you need a prayer room and there is a suitable room available you should be allowed to use it, provided it does not disrupt others or your ability to do your job properly.

Religious holidays

Your employer needs to consider carefully whether they are inadvertently discriminating indirectly. For example, if team meetings always take place on a Friday afternoon this may result in Jewish discrimination or Muslim discrimination with regards to staff for whom Friday afternoon has a particular religious significance, although not everyone follows their faith in the same way.

If you want time off for religious holidays, ask well in advance. Your employer should consider your request sympathetically but they can refuse if it will affect the business.

Religious discrimination and clothing

If you wear clothing or jewellery for religious reasons, your employer should make sure any dress code does not cause religious discrimination. A flexible dress code is usually possible, as long as health and safety requirements are not at risk.

Religious discrimination and food

Some religions do not allow you to eat certain foods. If you do not want to handle such food (for example, if you work in a supermarket and don’t want to handle pork), speak to your employer. They might be able to manage your request, provided it does not affect the business.

What to do next

If you think you have been discriminated against, harassed or victimised because of your religion or belief (or lack of religion or belief), or you have a religious requirement that is not being met, you can talk to your employer, your human resources department, or your trade union representative (if you belong to a union). The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues or you could contact your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau.