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Guidance on religious symbols at work

We have written previously about judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding the rights and wrongs of staff, including domestic staff, carers, etc., wearing religious symbols, but most of us are still confused about procedures.

In March 2013 the UK government published guidance on the issue.  Although recent judgements made by the ECHR may yet go to a higher chamber for review, it is recommended that this guidance be followed.

In essence, the guidance seeks to answer a number of basic questions that you, as an employer, may have.  These are:

  • How will an employer know if a religion or belief is genuine?
  • What kind of religion or belief requests will an employer need to consider?
  • What steps should an employer take to deal with a request?
  • What questions should an employer ask to ensure their approach to a religion or belief request is justified?
  • Do employees now have a right to promote their particular religion or belief when at work?
  • May employees refrain from work duties?

Included in the guidance are a number of examples that may help you in your decision making.

So what is the basis of this guidance?  In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission supports individuals’ right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to conditional protection of the right to express religion or belief.  It seeks to promote a balanced approach to recognising and managing religion or belief issues at work and to help employers and employees find reasonable solutions, wherever possible, and avoid complex, costly and damaging litigation.  It is in the interests of all parties to try to find reasonable solutions through discussion, mutual respect and, where practical, mutual accommodation.

The guidance is available at www.equalityhumanrights.com.  There’s a wealth of useful information, including Religion or belief in the workplace and a guide for small businesses which will be of interest to domestic employers:  The Equality Act:  Guidance for Small Businesses.

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