10th April 2013

OMG! Don’t cross me: religion and belief in the workplace

Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on various cases relating to the ability of employees to express their religious beliefs within the workplace.  In Eweida and others v UK, the ECHR held that Ms  Eweida had been discriminated against on grounds of religion and belief because her employer had asked her to remove a small cross which she wore.  Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights confers a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.  The ECHR found that the UK courts (who had previously rejected Ms Eweida’s claims) had placed too much emphasis on her employer’s desire to project a certain corporate image and had not correctly balanced this against Ms Eweida’s right to manifest her religious beliefs.

The three other cases which were heard along with Ms Eweida’s claim were rejected.  For example, in the case of Ms Chaplin, a nurse who had been asked to remove a cross necklace, the ECHR held that the employer had not been guilty of unlawful discrimination because their decision was necessary to protect the health and safety of other nurses and patients.

Given the uncertainty that these decisions has created for employers, the Equality and Human Rights Commission rather helpfully produced some guidance on managing religion and belief in the workplace.  The guidance is available at:  http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/guidance-for-employers/religion-or-belief-new-guidance-february-2013/

In addition to including an explanation of the Eweida judgment, the guidance also offers suggestions as to how employers might handle relevant requests.  Employers should take all requests seriously.  Requests might include employees seeking time off on religious grounds or for variations to uniform policies to allow religious dress/jewellery to be worn.  Employers must consider various factors in deciding whether or not allow a request.  These include: the cost and possible disruption to the business; the health and safety implications; the disadvantage to the employee if the request is refused; the impact of any change on customers; and whether workplace policies to ensure uniformity are justifiable.

Employers must be cautious and deal with all requests in relation to religious beliefs consistently.  If an employer prevents an employee from manifesting their religious belief, they must have objective justification for doing so (going beyond a mere protection of their corporate image).

Jack Boyle
Solicitor – Employment Law

The opinions expressed in this site are of the author(s) only and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Blackadders LLP.

Blackadders takes all reasonable steps to ensure that the content of this site is accurate and up to date. The site is not, however, intended as a substitute for seeking legal or other professional advice but rather as an informative guide to the services provided by Blackadders and topical legal developments. Site visitors should always seek advice tailored to their specific situation. Consequently, Blackadders accepts no responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by anyone acting or failing to act on the basis of information contained on this site. Downloading of material contained on this site is at the user’s own risk and all necessary virus checks must first be carried out by the user. Blackadders is not responsible for the material found on any web sites linked to this one and links to this site may only be made with Blackadders prior consent.

Copyright

Blackadders owns the copyright in this blog and all material contained on it. The material on this site may be downloaded for personal use only and must not be altered. Otherwise, Blackadders’ written consent is required before any material on this site is reproduced, copied or transmitted in any way.

Privacy Statement

Information passed to us via this site is kept confidential and will not be disclosed to third parties except if authorised by you or required by law.

© Blackadders LLP 2022

Members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Blackadders Solicitors is a trading name of Blackadders LLP, a limited liability partnership, registered in Scotland No SO301600 whose registered office is 30 & 34 Reform Street, Dundee, DD1 1RJ. Reference to a ‘partner’ is to a member of Blackadders LLP.

Back to Business Legal News from Blackadders Solicitors