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Religious Discrimination Briefing 115




Religious Discrimination Briefing No 115
The Employment Equality Regulations 2003


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 to:

  1. Conditions of access to employment, including promotion
  2. Access to all types and all levels of vocational guidance and training
  3. Employment and working conditions including pay
  4. 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 instruction.

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 not.

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.

Objective Justification

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 to it.

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 of others

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.

Positive Action

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 concerns.

Further Information

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













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Further Information

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


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