Religion and the workplace
In multi-cultural society employers increasingly face problems arising from their employees’ religious beliefs; both relating to the employee’s wish to manifest their belief and arising from conflicts between the employee and others of different beliefs or no belief at all.
ACAS publishes guidance for employers suggesting good practice when dealing with such matters as recruitment, harassment and workplace behaviour, workplace dress codes and dietary requirements (“Religion or Belief in the Workplace”). A copy can be found at its website at www.acas.org.uk.
One particular problem an employer can face is when an employee tries to convert other employees. The following cases illustrate the approach the courts have taken to deal with this situation.
A social worker was dismissed on grounds that included inappropriate promotion of his religious beliefs. He alleged that he had been directly discriminated against because of his religious belief but his claim failed; the court said that it was not on the ground of his religion that he was dismissed but because he was improperly foisting it on service users. In other words there is a difference between religious belief and inappropriate promotion of that belief.
Similarly in another case a nursery manager was dismissed following complaints from other members of staff about the way she was manifesting her beliefs. Her claim of direct discrimination did not succeed because the employment tribunal said that she had not been dismissed because of her religion but rather the way in which she shared it. The fact that the nursery manager was a Christian was irrelevant; a person of another faith who had behaved in that way would have been treated exactly the same.
In contrast, a devout Christian working in a nursery, had a discussion with a co-worker who was gay. The co-worker said that she wouldn’t be interested in attending at church unless it recognised her relationship so that she could get married there. The employee replied God is not with what you do and said that homosexuality is a sin although we are all sinners. The co-worker was upset by these comments and was sent home for the day. The employee was then called to a disciplinary meeting and dismissed for wholly inappropriate behaviour and for discrimination. However her claim to the Employment Tribunal succeeded. The Tribunal said the employee’s belief in the biblical prohibition of homosexuality was a belief she was entitled to hold; the employee had voiced her remarks in response to the co-worker’s comments about the Church and had answered her remarks honestly; her comments were not uninvited and therefore were not harassment.
Please contact Robert Bedford if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.