Religion or Belief is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. The Act aims to protect people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimisation on the basis of religion or belief.
Definition of 'Religion or Belief' in the Equality Act
Religion and belief discrimination applies to those with a religion or belief or on the basis of a lack of a religion or belief.
This includes philosophical beliefs, if they are genuinely held, more than an opinion, and apply to an important aspect of human life or behaviour. To be covered by the Equality Act, beliefs must not affect other people’s fundamental rights.
If you receive a request for time off for a religious festival, you should treat it as a request for annual leave, completed on the appropriate annual leave form and approve it wherever possible. If this is not possible for good operational reasons you should explain the situation to see if a compromise may be reached. Ultimately annual leave is authorised at the discretion of management, but should be based on sound reasoning. It may be worthwhile discussing such a request with your link HR Adviser before refusing.
For prayer, the University does not have to release staff outside normal rest breaks or holiday periods. However, staff may request that their rest break/lunch break coincide with their religious obligations to pray at certain times of the day. You may be justified in refusing such a request if it conflicts with legitimate business needs, which are unable to be met in any other way. If you are unable to justify such a refusal this may be discrimination.
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You may also be interested in:
Staff Networks - including Multi-Faith Staff Network
Taskforces and SIC - including Chaplaincy Reference Group
You can find more information about religion or belief and the law from the following sources: