As a Christian can I claim for discrimination in the workplace when I feel I am being treated differently due to my religious beliefs?

Discrimination on grounds of religion

Under the laws of England and Wales it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate on the following grounds:

  • Religion – this will include any religion

  • Belief – this will cover any religious or philosophical belief

  • Lack of religion

  • Lack of any belief 

The law also makes it unlawful to discriminate on the following grounds:

  • A person’s perceived – as well as actual – religion or belief

  • The religion or belief or someone with whom the person associates

Is religion or belief defined by law?

Neither religion nor belief is defined by law; however, belief is seen to cover such things as atheism and humanism.

Does Christianity fall within the definition of religion?

When thinking about religious discrimination often people do not necessarily think about Christianity as the first thought is often concerning certain religious which do not have as much of a majority in the United Kingdom as Christianity does or religions that require the individuals to dress in a certain way and behave in a certain way which may have a certain affect on the workplace.

However, Christianity is clearly a religion in the eyes of the law and in certain cases individuals who are Christians feel they are being discriminated against in the workplace due to their religion.

The following are recent examples of a Christian individual who has perceived discrimination in the workplace:

  • Issues with wearing a cross in the workplace

  • Issues with sending emails in the workplace with religious connotations

Issues with wearing a cross in the workplace

Recently a Christian nurse who wore a crucifix pendant around her neck while she was working on the ward was told to remove it by her employers due to health and safety reasons.

What were the health and safety reasons?

It was felt that when she was dealing with a patient she would be leaning over them and they may be able to grab it which could cause both her and the patient certain health and safety issues. Furthermore it is felt that such things as well as ties can harbour germs which can also have an adverse effect on the health and safety of the patients on the ward.

Did the employee take the case to an employment tribunal?

The employee took the case to an employment tribunal alleging that this was discrimination on the grounds of her religious belief as if she refused to take off the crucifix she would not be allowed to work on the word.

What was the decision of the employment tribunal?

The employment tribunal upheld the decision that it was necessary to protect health and safety on the ward. This shows that in certain cases a perceived discrimination will be allowed if there is a specific reason for this which has nothing to do with the religion of the person.

Have there been any further developments in the case?

Following the decision in this case the employee concerned has made complaints to UK newspapers that Muslim individuals working in nursing who stated that they would not bear their arms have been provided with the opportunity of wearing sleeves believing that this case shows double standards.

Why is it imperative that their arms be bare?

In much the same vane as the wearing of jewelry it is felt that certain germs and bacteria can be carried when sleeves are worn which could have health effects on the patient.

How are sleeves now able to be worn?

It has been held that sleeves are now able to be worn if the medical staff ensures that their arms are washed before dealing with a patient and also in certain circumstances they can be provided with disposable sleeves.

The NHS feels that the health and safety requirements are still adhered to in allowing sleeves to be worn but it would not be in allowing jewelry to be worn – regardless of the religious connotations.

This case clearly shows the fine balancing act between different religions and the effect in the workplace.

Emails in the workplace with religious connotations

In a recent case an employee was provided with disciplinary action and was guilty of serious misconduct when she sent what was claimed to be a private email to friends after for their prayers and support for her daughter. The woman was a part-time receptionist at the primary school where her daughter attended and where she claimed her daughter was upset after she was told by a teacher not to talk about Jesus again.

Following an internal investigation by the school the woman was found guilty of serious misconduct. However, the case has been settled out of court following the woman’s claims of discrimination on the grounds of religion.

In this case it was acknowledged that all faiths including Christianity must be treated with sensitivity.

What can we draw from this case?

It is difficult to draw whether this would have constituted discrimination on the grounds of religion as it was settled out of court but it does bring into focus the sensitivity with which employers must tread when dealing with issues of religion in the workplace. This is becoming particularly prevalent within schools following the multi-cultural society of Britain religion is often something that schools and their staff wish to steer clear of.