Employers need to move beyond political correctness and take a common-sense approach with regards to religion in the workplace, according to a new set of guidelines from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The "Religion or Belief: A Guide to the Law" guidelines were published in response to the findings of a review of religion and belief employment law in the UK. This found that, despite the current legislation being robust, there is still much confusion among businesses and organisations due to a lack of understanding of the law.
David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said: "There are a lot of myths that have arisen because of a misunderstanding of legal requirements. Employers' actions shouldn't be governed by a fear of causing offence."
The EHRC guidelines attempt to address common misunderstandings, with FAQs such as: 'Can I arrange an office Christmas party?' and 'Can I insist that an employee removes a religious symbol or type of religious dress if it breaches our health and safety policy?'
The guide also makes clear that while freedom of religion is a fundamental right, it does not give employees carte blanche if their beliefs impact negatively on others – for example those who wish to express sexist or homophobic views on religious grounds. The guidelines state: "An employee does not have an unlimited right to freedom of expression," and recommend that managers inform employees that their behaviour could amount to harassment and potentially bring disciplinary action."
The publishing of these guidelines follows Mr Isaac's comments last week that employers should not fear celebrating Christmas because it might cause offence. He said: "Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and it shouldn't be suppressed through fear of offending."
His statement was backed up by Prime Minister Theresa May, who said: "I'm sure that we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith, and also be able to speak quite freely about Christmas." The Prime Minister recently opened up about her own faith in a rare interview with The Times, saying: "I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do."