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EHRC guidance on religion in the workplace

Julie recently blogged on the case of Eweida and others v United Kingdom, which found that Ms Eweida, the British Airways employee who was not allowed to wear a cross under her uniform, suffered discrimination at work over her religious beliefs.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has now published guidance to assist employers deal appropriately with religion or belief observance in the workplace. The guidance comes in two parts: the first part explains the Eweida judgment and its impact; the second part looks at how employers can take practical steps to comply with the judgment when recognising and managing the expression of religion or belief in the workplace, offering example employee requests and suggested ways of dealing with them.

The guidance is available here.

Balancing rights

One of the key issues in this area is, where an employer’s practice or policy does limit an employee’s right to manifest their religion or belief, is that practice or policy justified (i.e. is it a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim)?

The EHRC guidance suggests that, when considering requests from employees relating to their religion or belief, an employer should seek to balance the needs of an employee with the legitimate needs of the business and the interests of others. When deciding whether that balance should tip in favour of acceding to the employee’s request or not, the guidance suggests an employer should consider:

  • the cost, disruption and wider impact on business or work if the request is accommodated;
  • whether there are any health and safety implications for the proposed change;
  • the disadvantage to the affected employee if the request is refused;
  • the impact of any change on other employees, including on those who have a different religion or belief, or no religion or belief;
  • the impact of any change on customers or service users; and
  • whether work policies and practices to ensure uniformity and consistency are justifiable.

While these criteria can be simply stated, the difficulty comes in applying them to each individual request and the employer’s particular business setting. That said, the guidance is useful and anyone dealing with requests from employees of this nature should take a look.

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