LEGAL MATTERS: Firms Fall Foul of Law on Equality; Religious Discrimination Cases Have Tripled in the Last Year at Employment Tribunals in Birmingham While Cases of Prejudice against Disability and Sex Have Fallen Sharply. Jessica Shepherd Reports
Byline: Jessica Shepherd reports
They were meant to guarantee, when required, halal or kosher meat in the canteen and a prayer room near the office.
But nearly 19 months after regulations came into force which made discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief illegal, not much seems to have changed.
Just ten out of 100 companies provided a prayer room for their staff, according to a survey conducted in January by Birmingham lawyers.
Less than a fifth of the firms questioned had adapted their policies to conform to new legislation - the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.
And Birmingham Employment Tribunal recorded three times as many cases of religious discrimination this year as last year.
On the other hand, gender and disability cases have dropped because of legislation, known as the Statutory Grievance Procedures, which came into force on October 1, 2004.
Many cases now have to go through a company's internal complaints procedure and have only a slim chance of being heard at an employment tribunal.
Even so, why have cases of discrimination against religion and belief tripled? One West Midlands employment lawyer believes it is because firms are ignoring the law.
Raj Basi, who works for Bevan Brittan in Birmingham city centre, said: 'It might be that publicity for the regulations has made workers more aware of their right to complain if their beliefs or religion are not respected. But it is not this alone.
'More than half of the firms we questioned in our survey saw the legislation as having very little impact on their organisation. Many have not taken notice of them.
'It is therefore not surprising that tribunal claims on the grounds of religion or belief discrimination are on the increase and that has to change.
'The whole point of these regulations is to value the differences in people.'
The Department of Trade and Industry admit that despite the new law, there is considerable misunderstanding about how an employee can observe their religion in the workplace. …