Managing religion in your law firm

As a society of diverse cultures, the UK is home to many different religions and beliefs, from Christianity to Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and many more. As the month of May marks the beginning of Ramadan, we look at how these diverse believes extend to the workplace and outline some key points to help you as an employer, support employees at your firm.

As highlighted in our previous diversity series, diversity in the legal profession is, slowly, on the rise. Workplaces hold a duty to recognise and support different beliefs and cultures. Though employers are aware that religious discrimination in the workplace is not legally tolerated under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010), many may not be aware of indirect discrimination of these protected characteristics. For example, not being able to have a beard or wear a headscarf in the workplace.

To ensure you are supporting those with religious beliefs within your firm you should consider these key points:

  • Get to grips with the meaning of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)—the most important first step in ensuring there is no discrimination against religious diversity in the workplace is to fully understand the differences between diversity and inclusion. A simple definition would be: Diversity: respecting and valuing difference and including people of different. Inclusion: creating a work environment where all employees are treated fairly, respectfully and can contribute to the success of the business. It means providing equal access to opportunities and resources regardless of an individual’s beliefs. For more see practice note: Religion or belief.
  • Be flexible where possible—for example making allowances around the dress code for religious jewellery ie a cross, headscarves and beards etc—unless there is a justified reason due to health and safety. This will ensure employees are not isolated because of their religious beliefs.
  • Consider annual leave requests—In the UK we respect the Christian holiday of Christmas, however, other religious have their own holidays. Be sure to consider annual leave requests for religious reasons with ‘care and sympathy’.
  •  Provide quiet spaces—some religions require prayer at different times of the day. By providing a safe quiet space you can support staff to take the time they need practice their religion without disturbing the office workflow.
  • Have compassion for rituals such as fasting—fasting is a vital part of some religions. It can impact an individual’s performance, however, being understanding of this in line with business needs is vital. Offering flexible work patterns that enable those fasting to select the times of day they work in accordance with the fast, may preserve productivity.

For more guidance, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has outlined more key points to help prevent religious discrimination at work. The head of D&I at Acas, Julie Dennis, notes that: ‘Discriminating against someone due to their religion or belief is against the law. Employers need to ensure that their workplaces are inclusive and respectful of people's beliefs, particularly in areas such as recruitment and annual leave.’

To read further into this definition please visit our practice note: Religion or belief. For a free trial of Lexis PSL click here.

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