Acas recently published new guidance on religion and belief to help employers prevent discrimination on these grounds in the workplace. To assist employers further, we’ve produced another series of “myth busters” to help separate fact from fiction in this area, all of which will be published on our website over the coming weeks. Of course, if you’re an employer and would like to discuss any of the issues touched on in these posts, please contact one of our HR consultants in confidence and without delay for some initial advice free of charge and without obligation.
Myth: Employees can’t be accused of discriminating against other employees where they are members of the same religion.
Fact: If you treat someone unfairly because of their religion it would be discrimination, whether or not you were the same faith.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law to treat someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic. Amongst those protected characteristics is religion or belief. Whilst claims of discrimination against a person of the same religion are less common, they are certainly not precluded by the Act. It may be that an individual asserts the fact that they are the same religion as the complainant as evidence that they would not treat a person less favourably on that basis, but that in itself cannot prevent the accusation, nor can it guarantee successful defence of it.
Consider the female CEO who favours employing males over females simply because she considers them less likely to require time off for family related reasons such as the birth of a child or ongoing childcare provision. This would almost certainly amount to discrimination. The same principle applies to religion. If you treat someone less favourably because of their religion it would amount to discrimination, whether or not you are of the same faith.
Chris Nagel, Director / Head of HR at EML, comments…
“I’m aware of a case in which a Jewish hairstylist was discriminated against by the Jewish owner of the spa he worked at because the owner was far more secular them he was. Although the owner was observant, he kept the spa open on Shabbat. However, he didn’t want the hairstylist working on that day because he was Jewish and his religion precluded him from doing so. The owner forced him to keep quiet on the reason why. When the hairstylist talked, he was dismissed and subsequently stated “When I as a Jew am discriminated against by another Jew, to the point of losing my job, income and dignity, that is completely intolerable. There is no excuse for discrimination based on religion, even if that person is of the same faith”. Although a non-UK case, this statement is equally applicable in UK law.”