Acas has published new guidance on religion and belief in the workplace, offering advice on how to comply with the provisions of the Equalities Act 2010 that protect employees against discrimination based on religion and belief.
The guidance highlights recruitment as a key area in which employers should take care to ensure that they avoid discrimination. In particular:
- job advertisements should be publicised widely and should avoid unnecessary and irrelevant mentions of ‘religion’;
- training and development opportunities to help employees gain promotions should be organised so that employees do not miss out on them because of religious observance; and
- opportunities for promotion should be fair and non-discriminatory.
On dress-codes (about which the Government Equalities Office is expected to produce its own guidance) Acas says that:
“From the very start of thinking about a dress code, an employer should consult staff, including relevant employee-run networks and recognised trade unions if they are in the workplace. This should be to get their input and support, and take into consideration that some employees may wish to dress in a certain way or avoid certain styles, cuts/fit, or items of clothing because of their religion or belief.”
When drawing up the code or policy, the employer should look to be flexible and reasonable where possible. If the code does include appearance restrictions or requirements, they must be for good business reasons which are proportionate, appropriate and necessary – and they should be explained to staff.
The Acas guidance also suggests that employers:
- should take a flexible approach to dress codes where possible;
- should consider requests to use annual leave for religious reasons carefully and sympathetically; and
- need to understand that fasting can have an impact on performance and should try to accommodate employees who are fasting, in line with business needs.
What the guidance does not appear to mention (we wonder why not?) is the thorny issue of religion as a Genuine Occupational Requirement. The key point is that in order to qualify, a requirement must be both genuine, legitimate and justifiable – as the Grand Chamber of the CJEU recently reaffirmed in Vera Egenberger v Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung eV  EUECJ C-414/16, which we noted here.