This legislation, enacted on 2 December 2003,
was introduced to comply with the EU directive on Employment
Equality as regards Religion or Belief. Its aim is to prevent
employers from discriminating against employees on grounds
of religion or belief.
Who is covered?
The regulation applies to all persons, in both
public and private sectors, including public bodies, in relation
Conditions of access to employment, including
Access to all types and all levels of
vocational guidance and training
Employment and working conditions including
Membership of, and involvement in, an
organisation of workers or employees.
An employer will be liable for the unlawful
actions of his employees whether or not it knew of those acts.
However, the regulations do not cover discrimination
on the ground of the belief of the discriminator.
Less Favourable Treatment
Direct Discrimination: Where one person is treated
less favourable than another on grounds of religion or belief.
This can include comparison with the previous treatment of
another person, or how a comparable person might hypothetically
be treated. Discrimination can be based on the actual religion
or belief of a person but also on the perception of the discriminator.
It is unlawful to discriminate against some on the grounds
that they associate with a person of a particular religion
or belief or because they refuse to comply with a discriminatory
Indirect Discrimination: To apply a provision,
criterion or practice which disadvantages people of a particular
religion or belief unless it can be objectively justified.
Indirect discrimination is illegal whether intentional or
Harassment: Occurs when unwanted conduct related
to religion or belief takes place with the purpose or effect
of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating,
hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
Victimisation: Adverse treatment or adverse
consequences imposed on an individual as a reaction to a complaint
or to proceedings aimed at enforcing compliance with the principle
of equal treatment.
The regulations do allow for indirect discrimination
to continue under specific conditions. For such treatment
to continue it must be 'objectively justified'. Therefore
it must be shown to correspond to a real business need, be
necessary to achieve the objective in question, and be proportionate
Burden of Proof
Where the complainant appears to have a prima
facie case under this regulation then it shall be for the
respondent to prove that such an act did not occur
The regulation allows for discriminatory measures
to continue where they are laid down by national law and which
are necessary for public security, the maintenance of public
order and the prevention of criminal offences, for the protection
of health or for the protection of the rights and freedoms
Genuine Occupational Requirement
In very limited circumstances it will be lawful
for an employer to treat people differently if there is a
genuine occupational requirement that the job holder must
be of a particular religion or belief. When deciding if this
applies it is necessary to consider the nature of the work
and the context in which it is carried out. Therefore where
organisations can show that they are founded on an ethos based
on religion or belief they could claim GOR applies. The organisation
must be able to show that it is a requirement of the job in
order to adhere to the ethos of the organisation and that
it is proportionate to the requirement.
It is possible to take certain steps to redress
the effects of previous inequality of opportunity. Although
they cannot discriminate positively, employers may give special
treatment to, or provide specific training for people from
religions or beliefs who are in the minority in the workplaces.
What to do next
If an employee suspects that they are being
treated less favourably treated by their employer on grounds
of religion or belief they should alert their shop steward
or branch equality officer who
may advise the member to use the organisation's
grievance procedure. Employees are also entitled to bring
their case before an employment tribunal. The employer can
be required to answer a questionnaire about discrimination
in your workplace. Complaints to an employment tribunal must
usually be brought within three months of the act the complaint
Department of Trade and Industry: Employment
Relations: The Employment Equality Regulations 2003
ACAS: A guide for employers and employees: Religion
or Belief and the workplace