Discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief under the Equality Act 2010

What does the Act prohibit?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination (whether direct or indirect), harassment and victimisation on the ground of a person’s religion or belief.

What is meant by belief?

Belief means any religious or philosophical belief.

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination occurs where a person treats another person less favourably than he or she treats or would treat others on grounds of their religion or belief.

However, conduct which would on the face of it amount to direct discrimination is permitted if the conduct amounts to a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, it may be an occupational requirement of a certain job that a person be of a certain religion or belief.

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice, which is applied or would apply equally to persons not of the same religion or belief, puts persons of a particular religion or belief at a disadvantage. Indirect discrimination of Jewish and Muslim staff may arise, for example, if an employer always holds team meetings on a Friday afternoon.

Conduct which can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim is, however, permitted.

What is harassment?

Harassment occurs where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct related on grounds of their religion or belief which has the purpose or effect of violating their dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.

What is victimisation?

Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment by reason of the fact that he has (or it is believed that he has or may) carried out one of the following acts:

  • brought or given evidence or information in proceedings brought under the Act;

  • the doing of something for the purposes of or in connection with the Act.

  • made an allegation that a person has contravened the Act.

However, the giving of false evidence or information, or the making of a false allegation is not protected by the Act if it is given or made in bad faith.

Does the Act protect atheists?

The reference in the Act to religion and belief includes a reference to a lack of religion and a lack of belief. Atheists are, therefore, protected by the Act.

In what circumstances does the Act apply?


The Act applies to all aspects of employment including recruitment, terms and conditions of employment, training, promotions and transfers, dismissals and redundancy.

Employers are still able to discriminate where such discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, an employer does not have to give an employee time off work or provide facilities for religious observance and can insist on a certain dress code for health and safety reasons.

The Act applies to contract workers, partners of firms and anyone in vocational training as well as employees.

Other situations

The Act prohibits a person who provides services to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) from discriminating against, harassing and victimising a person requiring a service by not providing the person with the service and during the provision of the service.

The Act also prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation in schools and further and higher education institutions by associations and in relation to the disposal, occupation and management of premises.

How is the Act enforced?

Where a provision of the Act is contravened proceedings can be brought through the Civil Courts. If the claim arises out of the employment of a person a claim can be brought in an Employment Tribunal.

A wide range of remedies are available to the Civil Courts and Employment Tribunals including the power to award compensation for injured feelings and to make recommendations to reduce discrimination in the workplace.

Normally claims brought in the Civil Courts will have to be brought within 6 years of the date of the act to which the claim relates and within 3 months in the case of claims brought in an Employment Tribunal.