What does religious discrimination mean?

Simply put, it is unlawful in England to discriminate against a person because of their religious or philosophical beliefs, or their lack of religious or philosophical beliefs.

The law on religious discrimination is set out in the Equality Act 2010. The Act lists religious beliefs as a ‘protected characteristic’, which means you can take legal action if you are discriminated against because of your religion or beliefs at work, at school, when buying or using goods or services, and during housing transactions.

What does religion or belief mean?

Under the Act, ‘religion’ means any religion. This includes the major organised religions, such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and smaller religions and sects, such as Scientology and Rastafarianism. ‘Religion’ also means participating in collective worship.

In addition, ‘religion’ includes having no religion, for example if you are an atheist.

‘Belief’ means any religious or philosophical belief or lack or belief. The belief must be a profound one that affects the way you live your life. It does not include a purely political belief unless that belief is also a philosophical one.

What does discrimination mean?

Under the Act, discrimination occurs when a person, or group of people, receives ‘less favourable treatment’ than others because of a protected characteristic. This is known as ‘direct discrimination’. An example of direct discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs could be if an employer refused to employ a person on the basis of their religion (unless they could show that religion was a ‘genuine occupational qualification’ and therefore necessary for the job).

The Act also covers ‘indirect discrimination’. This occurs when a decision or rule disproportionately disadvantages one group because of their religion. For example, if an employer insisted all employees wear a uniform that is unsuitable for members of a particular religion, the employees who are members of that religion would be indirectly discriminated against.

If you complain or take action against religious discrimination and suffer from further less favourable treatment, this is called ‘victimisation’ and is also against the law.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your religious beliefs at work or elsewhere, you can speak to a specialist discrimination solicitor to see if you have a claim. An employment solicitor may be able to obtain compensation for you if you have been discriminated against because of your religion or beliefs at work.

We can help you do this. Call us 08001 221 2299 or fill in the web-form and we will be able to give you some advice and get your claim started.