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Religion & Equality

By Faye Barron of Empire HR

Faye Barron, Empire HR

Faye Barron, Empire HR

February 11 2009 - Equality and discrimination issues never seem to be out of the public eye and new legislation being unveiled this year will likely lead to a rise in claims.

The government's proposals for an all-encompassing Equality Bill will pull current discrimination laws into one legal Act in 2009 and this will impact on organisations and businesses.

This type of legislation has been highlighted recently in an interesting case surrounding a row against Sunday opening.

It's been reported that The Isle of Harris Golf Club in the Western Isles may face problems with a grant application to sportscotland as it is closed on Sundays in accordance to local traditions.

Apparently the island's observance of the Sabbath is in conflict with the organisation's duty to uphold equality legislation requirements.

These requirements states that sportscotland must ensure the widest possible access to facilities for all, regardless of gender, race, disability, age, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

It remains to be seen whether sportscotland and Isle of Harris Golf Club can reach a suitable agreement which meets both legislative and traditional observance requirements.

In another row over religious beliefs, a Christian bus driver has refused to drive any First Bus vehicles with an advert proclaiming "There's probably no God".

The advertisements run on around 200 buses in London and 600 in England, Scotland and Wales.

In a statement, First Bus say they understand their employee's views and are doing what they can to ensure the driver doesn't have to get behind the wheel of a bus displaying the advert.

These cases raise interesting questions over conflicts in the various strands of Equality and Discrimination legislation.

Similar conflicts were also highlighted in a recent Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The case in question involved a Christian registrar who refused to perform civil ceremonies for same-sex partners and was subsequently disciplined because of her refusal to abide by the council's civil partnership policy. The registrar claimed that she was discriminated against on the grounds of her religious beliefs, however the Tribunal held that it was not discriminatory, and that the council had been justified in imposing its policy.

In other prominent cases, we have seen employees win claims of discrimination on the grounds of someone else's religious beliefs.

For example, one employee claimed he was harassed when he refused to take part in disciplinary action motivated by religion against another employee and another who refused to follow an instruction not to promote non-Christian employees within a Christian charity.

With the Government focussing on equality legislation this year, Empire HR would encourage companies to ensure they have up-to-date Equal Opportunities and anti-discrimination/harassment policies in place. Businesses should also review their practices to ensure that their actions and decisions meet current legislative requirements, in addition to the company policies in place. Clearly, different areas of discrimination legislation can conflict directly with one another, so if an employer is in any doubt, they should seek advice from a specialist advisor.



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