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Government cracks down on employers not allowing staff to wear religious symbols

Sun 13 May 2018
By Tola Mbakwe

The Government has said that employers must be flexible and allow staff to wear religious symbols at work as long as it does not interfere with their tasks. 

Equalities Minister Victoria Atkins announced on Sunday that new guidance will be issued by the Government Equalities Office this month to help employers set appropriate dress codes.

Katie Harrison, director of the ComRes Faith Research Centre, told Premier although the law is clear that employers mustn’t discriminate on people on the basis of religion or belief, there has been some confusion on what employers can and cannot allow staff to wear.

 

“We’ve seen some court cases. There was a British Airways member of staff that went to court over wearing a cross around her neck.

“There’s a sort of murky water where people will say ‘well it doesn’t really fit with our brand, or it doesn’t fit our corporate image, or we all need to look the same and wear the same things’. But we’re not all the same as people and we bring different things to the workplace.”
 
Harrsion said some employers have banned religious wear as a way to protect their staff, not discriminate against them.

 

“It’s an area many managers find tricky, as religious clothing and symbols can make people a target for abuse and harassment so some business leaders try to protect colleagues by stipulating a clothing policy which precludes religious dress.

“But this of course defeats the object, and sends a message that workers should hide an important part of themselves. For example, we hear from women who say they feel they are more likely to be offered a job if they remove a religious headscarf before their interview.”

The new guidance will not only be helpful for staff, but also for employers, as they’ve too been asking for clarification, according to Harrison.

She told Premier: “Conversations that often happen in the workplace can become quite emotional. People get distressed because they feel like their whole religion, their faith, their way of life is being questioned and is being criticised. 

"Most employers are really wise, kind people and they don’t want that. They want everybody to come to work and feel excited to be at work, motivated and to be fully productive, so this will be a really big help all around.”

The new guidance will make clear when wearing certain religious wear is actually dangerous in terms of operating machinery or completing a task.

ComRes Belief At Work Awards has honoured employers who make huge efforts to allow religious wear, including the Ministry of Defence. The department has accommodated religious beards and made other considerations in operational uniform requirements.

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