ACAS Launches New Guidance on Religion and Belief in the Workplace
As you will be aware, the term “employee,” as defined by the Equality Act 2010, includes those working under a contract of employment, workers and agency workers, apprentices, specified groups such as police officers and some self employed workers.Employers should ensure that their working environments are “inclusive” of all employees and do not disadvantage or under-value individuals because of their religion or beliefs. Where an employer fails to act in accordance with these principles, they may find themselves subject to claims of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 via:
- A direct or Indirect discrimination;
- Harassment; and/or
Some of the key areas where employers fall short of the necessary standards include:
- Requests for annual leave/breaks/ time away from work due to religious reasons; and
- Dress codes.
In order for employers to reduce their exposure to risk in the key areas, the ACAS Code proposes the following steps:
- When drafting the advertisement for the role, keep this strictly factual and relevant to the role in order to avoid any potential misunderstandings or inferences of discrimination;
- If you advertise vacancies on the radio, TV etc., ensure that this is broadcast on at least two different channels in order to widen the audience and candidate pool. It is also important that vacancies are not solely dependent on staff recommendations/word of mouth, as this can also narrow the workforce, creating an imbalance;
- Be mindful that if you choose to screen candidates on social media and this contains information pertaining to their religion, whilst this may not be the reason that a candidate is unsuccessful, this could give rise to unnecessary inferences;
- When interviewing candidates, ensure that the questions are role specific and do not detract to focusing on someone’s personal belief and religion, especially if this has no bearing on the role;
- If you are asked to provide a reference in relation to an employee, you should ensure that this does not relate to an individual’s belief or religion and that you do not discriminate against an employee/candidate on this basis;
Annual leave/breaks etc.
This can often be a tricky task for employers, who will often receive requests for leave relating to religious reasons and need to balance these requests with the operation of a business. When met with a request of this nature employers should be prepared to consider the following:
- Being flexible and reasonable with employee requests and assess whether or not the business could operate satisfactory if someone were to take a period of leave. However where too many staff require the leave and it would not be feasible to allow this, then the business is not obligated to facilitate all of the requests. Employers are advised to treat these requests on a first come first served basis;
- Where employees wish to pray at specific times, employers should consider whether an employee’s break could coincide with the prayer times, the employee shortens their lunch break to utilise this as prayer time at other times throughout the day, or whether flexibility to the work day could be applied to facilitate this.
Employers should also be mindful of asking employees to wear certain clothes or dismiss jewellery, hair and symbols of religion and belief. Whilst there may be a number of reasons for these requests, it is important that the rationale behind this is rationalised. Examples could include:
- Health and safety needs;
- The impact on the employee’s ability to carry out a task, if their attire would hinder them; and
- Whether the parties reach a compromise on the attire in dispute.
Top Tips for Employers
Moreover, some key tips for employers to consider reducing exposure to discrimination on grounds of religion or belief could include:
- Signposting the key skills and qualifications needed for the role and making this the focal point of the recruitment process;
- Accommodate interviews or assessments at different points of the week (where possible), so as to facilitate a wider candidate pool; and
- Being explicit with a candidate about the role and hours of work so that this is clear to any applicant when accepting a post;
- Having clear policies in place on the dress code, annual leave and recruitment; and
- Educating staff about diversity and treating one another with respect and dignity.
If you have any questions regarding the above, or are concerned about an individual’s working status, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the team at Napthens who will be more than happy to help.
*All information is correct at the time of publishing