To be a genuinely inclusive and equalities of outcomes employer, organisations need to understand – and be sensitive to – employees’ religious and philosophical beliefs or non-beliefs.

The situation

Religion and belief discrimination is illegal in the UK as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Although the act does not include a definition of belief other than ‘belief means any religious or philosophical belief’ and includes a lack of a particular belief, courts have developed a definition of belief through cases. 
A belief does not need to include faith or worship of a god or gods, but it must affect how a person lives their life or perceives the world. For a philosophical belief to be protected under the act, it must: 

  • be genuinely held
  • be a belief and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
  • be about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance, and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others. 

Beliefs such as humanism, pacifism, vegetarianism, the belief in man-made climate change and gender critical beliefs are all protected. Holocaust denial, or the belief in racial superiority are not protected. A 2017 report by consultancy ComRes showed that 3% of workers still say they are discriminated against because of their religion or beliefs, and a similar proportion report having witnessed colleagues being discriminated against on this basis.
The evidence also revealed a significant mismatch between HR and employee perceptions about provisions their organisation makes to cater for religious inclusion. For example, while 91% of HR managers say their organisation promotes understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion with regards to religion and belief to some or a great extent, only a quarter of workers agree this is the case.


CIPD viewpoint

The CIPD believes that all people, in recognition and respect of their religious or philosophical beliefs or non-beliefs, should have equality of access and equality of outcomes throughout their employment journey. From getting a job, to accessing training and receiving a promotion, employees should feel empowered and be able to realise their full potential at work. Everyone has the right to develop their skills and talents, work in a safe and inclusive environment, be fairly rewarded for their work, and have a voice in their organisation.

It’s in the best interests of any organisation to understand and be sensitive to employees’ religious or philosophical beliefs (or the absence of such beliefs). It’s important that all employees are aware of the need to respect and value each other’s religions and beliefs to prevent conflict, harassment and discrimination.

Being a genuine equalities outcomes employer will benefit an organisation’s brand and their ability to recruit the best people. In addition to the cost to individuals facing prejudice or bias and missing out on job opportunities, employers who take no action to deliver equality, diversity and inclusion will quickly become less attractive in the labour market, losing out to competitors, and risking litigation.

Recommendations for employers

  • Critically assess your organisation’s culture. Do you have a culture of inclusion and equality at work? Are your policies and practices actively enabling and empowering people with different faiths, beliefs and non-beliefs to be their best and achieve their full potential?
  • Ensure equality, diversity and inclusion policies and statements are easily accessible to all and explicitly include religion and belief.
  • Make it clear the organisation has a sensible zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and discrimination. Provide examples of what these behaviours may look like with respect to religion and belief.
  • Ensure staff are aware of how to report instances of bullying, harassment or discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, and feel able to do so.
  • Be sensitive to employees’ needs in terms of uniforms or dietary requirements, for example. Consideration should also extend to staff catering or providing rooms for prayer.
  • Consider a calendar of religious holidays to support religious diversity at work. Make staff feel they can celebrate religious occasions, and help people understand the significance of religious festivals to colleagues of different faiths by including any considerations within the work environment.
  • Make sure work events are inclusive. For example, providing non-alcoholic drinks is essential, and being mindful of offsite locations ensures every employee enjoys the events. Offering a range of foods such as halal, kosher and vegan, and labelling them is also important, as some religious groups have specific dietary requirements.

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