Discrimination Laws Warning
Byline: John Duckers Business Editor
New laws designed to tackle religious discrimination could have a big effect in the Midlands. The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 are designed to close loopholes in Britain's existing equality and discrimination laws.
Veronica Dean, spokeswoman on employment law for Birmingham Law Society, says the West Midlands will feel the full brunt of the new laws, due to the region's ethnic and religious diversity, putting employers in the front line when the changes come into effect on Tuesday.
While it is currently impossible for employers to discriminate against or harass their staff on the grounds of sex, race, disability and age, it is hard for employees, under current legislation, to plead discrimination on the grounds of religion.
The legislation is intended to prevent scenarios where individuals, whether from the same ethnic background or not, treat each other differently or less favourably because of their religion or beliefs. In this situation, protection offered by the Race Relations Act would be insufficient.
Figures from the 2001 Census demonstrate the West Midlands' wide ranging cultural diversity. Out of 376 towns and cities around the UK, Birmingham boasts the seventh biggest Muslim community; Wolverhampton, Coventry and Sandwell's Sikh communities put each of those towns in the top ten, while Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Sandwell all have Hindu communities large enough to rank them in the same position.
About a quarter of people in Birmingham are from nonChristian faiths. …