ACAS has just issued new Guidance on Religion and Belief to promote better understanding, policies and practices in the workplace. As well as providing a useful explanation of the law surrounding religion and belief discrimination, the guidance gives practical advice to both employees and employers on several issues that can arise. ACAS advocates that it can be beneficial to have clear polices to deal with requests made by employees for religion and belief accommodations, and how managers should handle them. Some examples of the guidance provided include:
- Time off – Even though an employer is under no obligation to automatically give staff time off for religious holidays or festivals, time or a place to pray, it should consider requests carefully, sympathetically and reasonably. Refusing a request without a good business reason could amount to discrimination.
- Dress code – Where the employer has a dress code, an employee should be allowed to raise concerns because of their religion or belief. While both the employer and the employee should be reasonable and try and reach agreement, an employer might insist on adherence to the dress code for a number of reasons, including health and safety, effect on the business and its duty of care to other staff.
- Food and tasting – While an employer does not have to cater for the dietary requirements of its employees because of their religion or belief, an employer should consult with its staff on how they would prefer to see dietary requirements managed. For example, a staff canteen should consider the make-up of the workforce e.g., it might be a proportionate step to provide halal or kosher food to reflect the make-up of the workforce. Non-alcoholic drinks should always be offered at work-related occasions to accommodate employees’ religion or belief.
- Washing and changing rooms – some religions or beliefs say that their followers must undress and/or shower in private. An employer insisting on providing only communal showers and changing rooms could be discriminating unless the decision is for a good business reason that is proportionate, appropriate and necessary.
ACAS has also put together factsheets on “Ten considerations for employers” and “Top ten myths” dispelling common misapprehensions about the law, such as you don’t have to be devout in your faith or belief to be able to bring a claim for religion or belief discrimination.
Written by Anita Vadgama