Race, Religion & Employment

Multi Ethnic TeamAs an employee, you have a right to protection against discrimination on grounds of race or religion. The legal definition of race includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. Religion is a belief that is genuinely held, attains a certain level of cogency and seriousness and is worthy of respect in a democratic society, without conflicting with the fundamental rights of others. It includes both traditional religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam, as well as more modern beliefs such as environmentalism and Scientology.

It is easy to deal with the obvious signs of racial or religious discrimination, but there are forms of discrimination which can be hidden.

Occupational requirements

An employer can only decide to employ someone of a particular race or religion where they can prove it is a genuine and reasonable requirement for the job. For example, there are some jobs that need staff to work late into the night and it may be justified for an employer to employ someone whose religion requires them to be home before sunset.

Good practice for employers

An employer should actively encourage diversity and equality within the workplace. This can be done by:

  • Updating or amending, where necessary, all existing policies and practices to ensure no indirect racial or religious discrimination. Examples of this would be to consider special dietary requirements like halal food, kosher and vegetarian options or making sure important meetings or networking events are not scheduled at the same time as religious observances.
  • Educating the workforce, particularly managers, in all issues relating to discrimination, again with a goal to eliminate it in all instances. Problems can occur when a person belonging to a specific religion is victimized or harassed due to an international crisis featuring that religion. In such cases an employer needs to take a conscious effort to stress that not all followers of that religion believe or practice the same rules, this could be achieved by a training workshop, a meeting or a simple email to all employees.
  • Promoting personal responsibility among the workforce, with regards to treating all colleagues and staff with a high level of respect and dignity, irrespective of their race or religious belief or lack of it. It is imperative that employees are made aware that racial or religious discrimination can result in making the perpetrator personally liable and may have to pay compensation.

An employer can help to minimise discrimination by creating an environment in which employees feel comfortable disclosing information relating to protected characteristics such as race and religion:

  • by maintaining a good level of diversity is maintained among staff
  • providing suitable training or workshops to remind all staff of the issues at hand and enlighten them on the law regarding to equality within the workplace

To stress, it is most important that the process of employing someone is reviewed to eliminate any chances for discrimination, such as the language used in the job advertisement and making sure dates of interviews do not fall on religious holidays.

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