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EHRC Publishes Guidance on Managing Religion or Belief in the Workplace

Following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in four UK cases in which Christian employees claimed to have suffered discrimination at work on account of their religious beliefs (Eweida and Others v United Kingdom), the Equality and Human Rights Commission has published new guidance to help employers and employees deal with issues surrounding the expression of religion or belief in the workplace.

The ECHR found that domestic anti-discrimination law provides adequate protection to individuals who wish to assert their right to manifest their religion or belief. The right to do so is not absolute, but is subject to certain limitations, such as public safety considerations, health and safety interests and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Two of the cases before the ECHR concerned women who were prevented from wearing a visible crucifix at work.

The ECHR ruled in favour of Nadia Eweida, a British Airways (BA) employee.

Although BA’s wish to present a particular corporate image was a legitimate aim, the UK courts had erred in attaching too much importance to its desire to do so. There was no evidence that the wearing of religious clothing by adherents of other faiths had negatively affected BA’s brand. In this particular case, Ms Eweida’s rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been breached.

The claim of former nurse Shirley Chaplin, who had been asked not to wear her crucifix necklace by her employer for health and safety reasons, was rejected however. The ECHR held that although her right to manifest her religion had to be taken into consideration, this was outweighed by her employer’s need to ensure health and safety in a hospital ward. There was therefore no breach of her rights under Article 9.

The guidance, which can be found here includes good practice advice for employers, such as how to tell if a religion or belief is genuine, the kinds of religion and belief requests employers will need to consider and how to deal with them.