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Religious equality rules active from Dec 2

New regulations will outlaw discrimination or harassment or victimisation based on religion or belief.

india Updated: Dec 25, 2003 21:34 IST
UK Bureau
UK Bureau

The mix of workforce in the UK has been rapidly changing over the last 25 years and projections show that over the next 10 years the change in that mix will continue to accelerate, for example only one-third of the workforce will be male and under 45, 80 per cent of the increase in jobs will be filled by women, the minority ethnic population accounting for eight per cent of the total population is also rising.

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Do you think the new religious equality legislation will help in cutting down discrimination or harrassment based on religious belief?

The business case for the equality legislation is well understood by the large employers but a much greater awareness drive is still needed at the smaller end of the economy, for businesses having 50 or less staff. It is generally acknowledged that the costs of replacing and retraining staff far exceed the benefits of maintaining a low staff turnover ratio, both from the point of view of business success and the shareholder returns. The legal case, therefore, for this legislation though may seem burdensome to the small employer, initially, may prove to be a blessing once understood. The guidance on the religions should help to adapt and devise new employment policies and practices, which ought to yield long-term benefits to businesses.

The new regulations will come into force on December 2, 2003 and will outlaw discrimination or harassment or victimisation based on one's religion or belief. These regulations cover all facets of employment from training to promotions and dismissals.

The regulations will give wide powers in the sense that the definition of discrimination is extended to include an unjustifiable practice that could even disadvantage someone following a particular religion. Any intimidating and degrading conduct of either employer or colleagues that may be seen as offensive to someone from a particular religion would also come under scrutiny, like continual teasing about someone's belief, for example in not eating meat, where on justified evidence the Tribunal may order both the employer and the teasing staff to pay compensation to the victim.

One of the criterions the employers use to assess a candidate's application is whether he or she will "fit in". It is an important test for the employer but if the "fitting in" test is based on the candidate's behaviour as a result of his belief, for instance not socialising in a pub or in a similar environment at work because his belief forbade alcohol, then such a test would be construed as discriminatory.

The guidance notes in the appendices give a brief outline of each religion in terms of festival days, clothing, food and bereavement. Of the Indian Vedic religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism separate briefs are published. On Hinduism, to formulate the published information with ACAS, the Hindu Council in UK received a wide representation from temples across the UK and additional care was taken to give a balanced outline, for employment purposes.

The guidance notes are available on the Internet on the ACAS website:

First Published: Dec 25, 2003 21:33 IST