Discrimination on the grounds of religion is outlawed even if you are a Druid, as Phillip Inman reports
Druids seeking time off over the winter solstice will enjoy new rights to claim an extended Christmas break from their employer under anti- discrimination rules that come into effect next month.
Scientologists, who follow the teachings of L Ron Hubbard (and apply an electropsychometer he developed to free their mind) will also find they can stampede to their nearest industrial tribunal should they become the butt of derogatory jokes at work.
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Law firm Lewis Silkin says these groups are likely to benefit from legislation that outlaws discrimination on the grounds of “religion, religious belief or other similar philosophical belief”.
Steve Lorber, a partner at the firm, says: “This is wider than mainstream religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. It includes not only particular beliefs within a religion, for example Methodism or Shi’a Muslims – but also less practiced religions such as Scientology, Druidry and Paganism. Some have gone as far as to suggest that pacifism and vegetarianism may be covered.”
New rules also ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. They will arrive on the statute book after years of lobbying for equal rights by religious groups and gay campaigners.
First in the frame is the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, which becomes law on December 1, followed by the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 the following day.
Sexual orientation is defined as heterosexuality, homosexuality or bi-sexuality. The definition of religion is almost certain to prove more controversial following the inclusion of “a similar philosophical belief” in the rules. Legal experts say employers will need to re think many of their employment policies or face a stream of employment tribunal claims.
Mr Lorber says staff can force their employers to ditch policies, rules or other practices that disadvantage them unless the practice can be justified. Employers who defend their employment practices by claiming they are the same for everyone, will find this tactic shot full of holes when they reach a tribunal.
He says: “A Monday to Friday working week, a day of rest at the weekend, Monday morning blues and dress-down Fridays may be just part of life, but it is a life built around a timeframe that does not sit easily with Islamic prayer times, the Sabbath and lunar Poya days.
“Other practices which should be examined include requirements to work over religious festivals, dress codes and the food provided at work,” he says.
Employers could also be in the firing line if they allow alcohol to flow at busi ness functions. Staff who belong to a religion that prohibits alcohol could object to backslapping colleagues fuelled by alcohol spending a lunchtime or evening networking.
Nicola Brown from law firm Thomas Eggar says workers affected by the rules governing religion will benefit from: * time off for prayer or other religious observance * consideration of different dietary requirements * freedom to adopt different dress codes * attending religious events * flexible working hours.
Mr Lorber, says firms should show flexibility and a willingness to accommodate religious diversity. But the rules go further and the secular majority (or, if you believe the 2001 census, Christian majority) may need to change its behaviour.