Religion or belief and the workplace

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14 / 5 / 2015 9.19am

Dr David Perfect is a research manager at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Do you think your religion or belief or that of your colleagues or patients should play a role in health care?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission wanted to find out what people in Great Britain thought about the role of religion or belief in their workplaces and when providing or using services. We ran a consultation in 2014 and received 2,500 responses, and published our report in March 2015.

The right to hold a religion or belief is legally protected, but the right to manifest it may be limited when it affects the rights of other people. This has led to a good deal of uncertainty and one of the strongest findings of our consultation was that many people don’t understand their legal rights and obligations. As a result the Commission will be producing guidance for employers and service providers about managing religion or belief in the workplace.

Positive workplace experiences

Some respondents described their workplaces as inclusive environments in which employees and employers were able to discuss openly the impact of religion or belief on employees or customers. Some respondents of different religions also reported that they were easily able to take time off to celebrate religious holidays.

Negative workplace experiences 

Some employees stated that they had found their work environments hostile and unwelcoming, and their views, whether religious or not had been mocked or criticised. They described difficulties about wearing religious clothing or symbols, found it hard to get time off work for religious holidays and holy days, and were worried that their religion or belief, or that of their employer had affected their opportunities when applying for a job, or seeking promotion. 

Many participants in the consultation were concerned about the right balance between the freedom to express religious views and the right of others to be free from discrimination or harassment. Some people felt they should have the right to discuss religious beliefs with service users during the delivery of a service, and others felt this fell outside their professional duties and imposed personal views on service users which might not be welcome. Some respondents were also concerned about the impact of religious dress on hygiene and infection control. 

Christian participants described their beliefs being mocked by their colleagues, while some non-religious service users were distressed when staff expressed their Christian values to them. Some lesbian, gay and bisexual participants complained about the poor treatment they received which they believed was due to the religious views held by the attending doctor.

Specific healthcare findings

Some patients or their relatives felt that they were not able to access appropriate religious and non-religious support in hospitals. For example, some secular or humanist service users felt they had only been offered religious chaplaincy care. Others said that hospitals had not catered for their religious dietary needs and they been given food that was not kosher although it had been requested or that halal food was provided without it being requested. 

Other EHRC work on religion or belief

The consultation is one element of a wider programme of work the Commission is busy with. It will be producing guidance to help employers and service providers understand the law and their obligations to employees and service users. It will also be examining the effectiveness and interpretation of equality and human rights law.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It is an independent body responsible for promoting and enforcing the laws that protect fairness, dignity and respect. It contributes to making and keeping Britain a fair society in which everyone, regardless of background, has an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and is accredited by the UN as an ‘A status’ National Human Rights Institution.

Thank you for reading,

Dr David Perfect

Find out more about the Commission’s consultation results, and read the report in fullFor further information about the Commission's work on religion or belief, please contact david.perfect@equalityhumanrights.com
 

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