Sex and Religion; (1) Law (2) Your Cut-out-and-Keep Guide to the New Laws Banning Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexuality or Belief

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 8, 2003 | Go to article overview

Sex and Religion; (1) Law (2) Your Cut-out-and-Keep Guide to the New Laws Banning Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexuality or Belief


THE legislation introduced last week seeks to achieve an open and understanding working environment for people of different sexuality and religious beliefs. The laws will protect workers from: Direct discrimination.

Treating people less favourably because of their sexuality, religion or belief.

This may include refusing to offer a job, providing training or withholding promotion, as well as dismissal, even if unintentional.

Indirect discrimination. Applying a "provision, criterion or practice" which puts at a disadvantage people of a particular sexual orientation, religion or belief, unless it can be justified.

Harassment. Unwanted conduct that violates people's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment.

Victimisation. Treating people in a less favourable way. For example, because they have complained about unfair treatment.

HOW THE LAW AFFECTS WORKERS

THE regulations will help people who feel they are being sidelined or bullied because of their religious practice or sexuality. They will also affect those seen to be discriminating.

Who will be affected by the new laws?

The rules will affect nearly everybody, including agency and casual workers.

They are designed to protect people of different religious beliefs and sexual orientation, whether they are bisexual, lesbian, gay or heterosexual.

If I am gay, bisexual or Muslim, am I protected from colleagues making jokes?

Yes. The new laws put pressure on employers to take action over hurtful comments. This may vary from a warning to formal action, depending on the severity of the offence. Any unwanted behaviour that has the purpose or effect of violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile or humiliating environment, gives you grounds for a harassment claim.

Could I take action if I felt I didn't get a promotion because I am gay?

Yes, if you have a good argument.

For example, you might need to show that colleagues in the same position, with the same or fewer skills than yourself, have received promotion. You would need to demonstrate the existence of a company culture intolerant of homosexuality, and statements from colleagues to back you up.

Would I be allowed time off for a religious holiday?

Employers will need to work out ways of balancing religious priorities with business pressures. Under the new laws, you are entitled to expect a day off.

However, if an urgent meeting or deadline comes up, employers will be within their rights to expect you to work.

If I am Hindu and my company doesn't provide vegetarian food in the canteen, would that be discrimination?

Yes. Any religious group that is made to feel sidelined or is inconvenienced because of their beliefs, would have a case for indirect discrimination.

My office culture is based on alcohol. My religion forbids me from drinking and I feel I am missing out on moving up the work ladder. Could I have a case?

Yes. This would amount to indirect discrimination. While it would be absurd to ban staff from going out after work, companies are under pressure to clamp down on networking environments that exclude some groups.

I am a supporter of the Green Party and want time off for an environmental march. Is this within my rights? …

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