What can I do if my employer treats me unfairly because of religion or belief?

You are protected by law if someone you work for treats you worse than other workers because of your religion or belief. If you are treated worse than other workers because of your religion or belief, this is called discrimination.

What is discrimination at work

Discrimination at work can be either direct or indirect. Direct discrimination is where, for example, an employer refuses to employ you, or dismisses you because of your religion. It is also direct discrimination if an employer refuses to employ you or dismisses you because of the religion of someone you're associated with, such as your partner or your son.

Indirect discrimination is where someone you work for has rules, policies or practices which, though not aimed at you personally, put you at a disadvantage because of your religion or belief. An example would be a rule requiring everyone to dress in a particular way meaning you can’t wear an item of clothing you regard as part of your faith. Sometimes, this type of discrimination is allowed, if there is a justifiable reason for it. For example, it might not be against the law if your employers require you to dress in a particular way for health and safety reasons, even though it might be against your religion.

Discrimination at work because of your religion or belief could include: 

  • advertising for job applicants of one religion only
  • requiring you to dress in a certain way, for example, requiring all women to wear a short skirt. This would not be acceptable for women of several different religions
  • making you work at times that are against your religion
  • victimisation – see below
  • bullying at work because of your religion. This is also known as harassment – see below.

What is meant by religion or belief

You are protected from discrimination at work because of your religion or belief if you:

  • belong to an organised religion such as Christianity, Judaism or Islam
  • have a profound belief which affects your way of life or view of the world, such as humanism
  • take part in collective worship
  • belong to a smaller religion or sect, such as Scientology or Rastafarianism
  • have no religion, for example, if you are an atheist.

You are protected if someone discriminates against you because they think you are a certain religion, when you are not. For example, it's against the law for someone to discriminate against you for wearing a headscarf because they think you are a Muslim, even if you are not actually Muslim.

Bullying or harassment at work because of your religion or belief

It is against the law for someone to harass you at work, because of your religion or belief. The person harassing you may be your employer, or it may be a colleague, Someone is harassing you if you find their behaviour towards you offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or in any way distressing. It may be intentional or unintentional.

It is also against the law for someone to harass you at work because of your religion or belief, even if they are mistaken about what it is. For example, you are attacked at your workplace by someone who has assumed, wrongly, that you are a Muslim because of your appearance. You will not have to say what your religion actually is in order to do something about this.

Victimisation at work because of your religion or belief

Victimisation is where you're treated worse than someone else because you've complained or taken legal action about religious discrimination. It is also victimisation if you are treated unfairly because you've supported someone else taking action, for example, if you act as a witness in someone else's discrimination case.

Examples of victimisation at work could include:                   

  • being labelled a trouble-maker
  • being denied promotion or training opportunities
  • being ignored by your work colleagues
  • being given a poor reference.

If your employer victimises you because you have been involved in a complaint about unfair treatment or bullying at your workplace, you can make a claim for unlawful victimisation to an employment tribunal. You should raise a written grievance with your employer before you do this. If you are thinking about making a claim to an employment tribunal, talk to an experienced adviser straight away. 

 

Extract of factsheet available at http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/work_e/work_factsheets.htm

Copyright © 2002-2012 Citizens Advice. All rights reserved Registered charity no: 279057 Company no: 1436945 England

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