Negotiating the Sensitive Issue of Religion in the Workplace; Claims Involving Religious Discrimination on the Rise

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 18, 2009 | Go to article overview

Negotiating the Sensitive Issue of Religion in the Workplace; Claims Involving Religious Discrimination on the Rise


Byline: Sion Barry Business Editor

BUSINESSES are being urged to check their policies and procedures to make sure they do not add to the growing number of religious discrimination claims.

The number of cases reaching the courts under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 doubled between 2004 and 2007 with 700 cases a year going to court.

The warning comes from employment lawyer Bethan Darwin of Darwin Gray Solicitors in Cardiff who says many employers and employees are unaware of the law, the risks and where the boundaries lie.

She said: "It's a very sensitive area as we're dealing with people's firmly held beliefs.

"A lot of employers have had to change to comply with laws on other forms of discrimination but many are not aware of the religious discrimination dimension.

It's not necessarily the case that businesses are wilfully discriminating against people with religious views - often they don't realise they are doing it.

"Many people don't know much about religions other than their own - if they have one. For example, they may not realise that a Friday, when they may want to go out and celebrate after a successful week or when they may be turning the screw to get jobs finished, is also a significant day for Muslims who may have other priorities that day.

"They may not understand that people of particular faiths feel they should not work on particular religious festival days. And even if they do accept that principle, how many employers actually know when those days are?

"We've become accustomed to the trappings of a multicultural society in Britain, but the religious aspects of it, which are often at the heart of a culture, sometimes go unacknowledged."

A survey published recently by the Chartered Management Institute revealed two thirds of employers admit to uncertainty about the faith days celebrated by their staff and only one in three organisations have an explicit policy on religion and belief issues. …

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