Direct discrimination occurs when an employee is treated less favourably to another employee because of their religion, beliefs or assumed religion or beliefs.
A typical area of direct discrimination is where an employee of the same level of efficiency is overlooked for a promotion or pay rise in favour of another employee, purely on the grounds of their religious beliefs. Awarding advantages to employees because they follow the same belief systems as theircustomers or suppliers is considered direct discrimination.
It isn’t necessary for the employer to have the same or conflicting beliefs to carry out discrimination, only that their decision is based on religious grounds when opposing the employee’s performance of the role in question. For example, if a Christian employee is overlooked for a role dealing primarily with Muslim customers, despite having an equally strong work record, the employer is carrying out religious discrimination whether the employer is Muslim or Christian.
Assumed religious discrimination occurs where an employee is overlooked for a specific role because of a misinterpretation of a religious belief, for example, if an employee is wearing a headscarf and is assumed to be a Muslim; whether the woman is a Muslim or not.
If a business holds a particular policy, rule or regulation that doesn’t at first appear to be detrimental to any religion or belief but creates a disadvantage for an employee practising that religion or holding those beliefs—this is indirect discrimination.
For example, some religions require observations of practices or prayer requirements where rules regarding time off or flexible working hours may affect the employee—these rules may be considered indirect discrimination.
Rules regarding dress codes that don’t directly affect the business practice can be viewed as discrimination. An employer cannot outlaw articles of clothing or religious symbols if they do not impede the performance of the worker. However, if clothing causes issues of health and safety where no alternative can be utilised, this is considered allowable discrimination.
Harassment occurs when an employer, or any of their employees, humiliates, offends or degrades an employee or co-worker by their actions towards them in relation to their religion or beliefs. Any act of intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive behaviour is seen as harassment. It can be physical or verbal as long as it is delivered with the intent of causing physical or emotional distress.
Typical areas of harassment with regard to an employee’s religious beliefs can include:
- Bullying or mocking an employee due to practices, dress or schedule
- Excessive monitoring and criticism if delivered because of opposing religious or belief systems
Acts of distributing racist information designed to provoke hatred,or preaching against religious groups, is a criminal offence. This is also religious discrimination by harassment.
If an employee receives unfair treatment after making a complaint about religious discrimination or helping a co-worker to make a complaint—this is victimisation.
If an employee is treated unfairly because an employer, manager or co-worker believes they have made a complaint on religious grounds or supported another employee in doing so, whether they have or not, this is also classed as victimisation.