Lack of faith in religious lawsOn 5 Nov 2002 in Personnel Today Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief and sexual orientationwill soon be illegal, but legal experts are concerned that it could lead to anincrease in workplace disputes. Quentin Reade reportsImpending new laws outlawing discrimination at work on the grounds ofreligion, belief and sexual orientation will create a ‘minefield’ of employmenttribunal claims. The proposed legislation, announced by Barbara Roche, the ministerresponsible for equality, is being introduced to bring the UK in line withexisting EU directives and will come into force by December 2003. The legislation also covers age discrimination, but this aspect will notbecome law in this country until 2006. The new laws have been widely welcomed but employment experts warn that thesection banning religious discrimi- nation will create problems because of itswide scope – protecting both religions and “similar philosophicalbeliefs”. Robin Bloom, partner at law firm Dickinson Dees, said the new legislation issure to generate more employment tribunal claims because the definition ofreligion is open to interpretation. “It opens up a new avenue of claims. Some employers won’t be preparedand there will be people who want to exploit that. Some people will be lookingto push it in some areas,” he said. He said many employers would be unaware that the rules, which are subject toconsultation until 24 January 2003, cover areas such as Rastafarianism andDruidism. Under the legislation the rights of atheists and humanists will also have tobe taken into account by employers. Sue Ashtiany, partner and head of employment law at Nabarro Nathanson, believesthat difficulties may arise because some religions “don’t sit well”with others and with other workplace rights. Some areas of Islam, Christianity and Judaism frown on homosexuality, shesaid, and followers may not wish to work alongside a gay colleague. This wouldcreate a conflict of rights – something she believes the Government needs toaddress. “What will happen when rights clash?” she said. “That is amatter for the Government.” Ashtiany said HR should start finding out now what faiths their employeesbelong to, what their rights are under the legislation and, where necessary,how their needs can be met. Dianah Worman, CIPD adviser on equal opportunities, agreed that the issue ofconflicting rights is set to create difficulties for employers and the CIPD islooking into the matter. Another area Worman believes may cause contention is how an employee provesthey belong to a faith, and is not simply claiming a particular belief to gainspecial treatment at work. “It’s a big challenge,” she said. “Weneed to work out how we can deal with it sensibly.” Employers will be also considered discriminatory if they make assumptionsabout a person’s beliefs based on their religion. Bloom gives the example of an employer assuming that because someone is Rastafarianthey smoke cannabis. However, the regulations for both sexual orientation and religion containexemptions when discrimination is a “genuine occupationalrequirement”. For example, it will permissible to require a Jewish Chaplinin the Army to be Jewish. Organisations based on a religious ethos – such as a religious school – willalso be allowed to favour members of their own religion. The CBI welcomed the new anti-discrimination rules but stressed that furtherdetailed guidance is needed. Susan Anderson, CBI director of human resources policy, said:”Ministers must now set out the parameters clearly. Companies will notunderstand if they face unnecessary and expensive litigation through no faultof their own.” The introduction of legislation banning discrimination based on sexualorientation is not expected to create too many problems, said Ashtiany. “In this case, legislation is playing catch-up. Most company equalopportunity policies already address it,” she said. The changes will also see some people in same-sex relationships get improvedpension rights, and the CIPD has warned that companies will need to check theydon’t exclude gay people by offering better pension benefits to marriedcouples. New disability regulations are also due to come into force. From 1 October2004, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, will be amended to give a clearerdefinition of discrimination on grounds of disability. The changes will also introduce a defence to the duty to make reasonableadjustments if the employer didn’t know the employee was disabled. What happens next?Equality and Diversity – The WayAhead is available at www.dti.gov.uk/er/equalityThe consultation closes on 24 January 2003 Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.