Religion or belief discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 provides you with protection against discrimination because you are – or are not – of a particular religion, or hold – or do not hold – a particular philosophical belief.

You are also protected from being discriminated against when someone thinks you are of a particular religion, or hold a particular belief. This is discrimination by perception. Additionally, you are protected from being discriminated against because you have a link to someone who subscribes to a religion or belief. This is discrimination by association.

The Act says a religion or belief must have 'a clear structure and belief system'. That could be an organised religion such as Christianity or Islam, or a smaller religion such as Rastafarianism or Paganism.

You are also covered by the Act if you are discriminated against because of a non-belief, or lack of religion or belief.

The Act says a philosophical belief must be 'genuinely held', and more than an opinion. It must be cogent and serious, and apply to a 'weighty and substantial' aspect of human life or behaviour. It must also be 'worthy of respect in a democratic society' and should not affect other people's fundamental rights.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission code says that an employee who believed strongly in human-made climate change, and felt they had a duty to live in a way which limited their impact on the planet, would be protected under the Act. On the other hand, an employee who believed in racial superiority, and told their colleagues of it, would not.

Some political beliefs are also protected. Law at Work 2020 cites a case (p. 221) where a belief in left-wing democratic socialism was judged to be a philosophical belief.

This area is complex. It is clear, though, that workers cannot use the protected characteristic of 'religion or belief' in order to object to practices that are protected by other laws against discrimination. Law at Work 2020 cites the example (p. 221) of a Relate counsellor and a marriage registrar who were unable to use their Christian beliefs to justify their refusal to provide services to same-sex couples.

Determining whether your belief system would be protected under the Act may need the advice of an NUJ Legal Officer.

NUJ reps are probably most likely to come across issues of religious discrimination around requests for time off for religious observance, and dress codes. The EHRC says you have a human right to manifest your religion or belief under the European Convention on Human Rights – for example, wearing a crucifix to demonstrate you are Christian. However, that right is qualified – so your employer may be entitled to stop you wearing particular clothing or symbols if your role requires it. For example, it may be lawful for your employer to ask you to stop wearing a floor-length garment because it is a trip hazard.