Council of Europe passes resolution to stop workplace discrimination against people of faith

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The Council of Europe has adopted a resolution upholding the duty of member states' to protect people of faith against discrimination in the workplace because of their beliefs.

Although Britain left the European Union last week, it remains a member of the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based human rights body. 

The resolution states that while there is no absolute right to manifest religious beliefs, protecting against discrimination in the workplace is of "crucial importance" because of the amount of time that people spend at work. 

It also warns that even seemingly "neutral" workplace rules, for example relating to dress or holidays, could be discriminatory towards people of faith.

"The Assembly recalls that freedom to manifest one's religion or belief applies also in the workplace and that the European Court of Human Rights has developed an extensive case-law on this issue," it said.

"It also stresses that religion is an essential aspect of one's identity and that religious identity encompasses religious practice as well as belief.

"Given the fact that many people spend a large share of their daily lives at work, ensuring the non-discrimination of employees on grounds of their religion or belief is thus of crucial importance."

It continues: "The Assembly also notes that the presence of members of different religious or non-religious groups may cause challenges in the workplace that some employers may try to resolve by imposing prima facie neutral rules.

"However, the application of prima facie neutral rules in the workplace – such as those on dress codes, dietary rules, public holidays or labour regulations – can lead to indirect discrimination of representatives of certain religious groups, even if they are not targeted specifically."

The resolution then calls on Council member states to adopt "all necessary measures" to combat discrimination based on religion or beliefs in the areas of civil, economic, political and cultural life. 

It recommends that governments "promote a culture of tolerance and 'living together' in a religiously pluralist society" by providing training for employers, and supporting dialogue between employers and faith communities.

They should also pass "effective anti-discrimination legislation" to prevent workplace discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. 

The resolution concludes: "The Assembly reaffirms that member States have an obligation to ensure non-discrimination in the workplace including on the grounds of religion or belief.

"The freedom of employees to practice their religion or belief may only be restricted if the restrictions are in line with human rights law and standards, necessary, proportionate, and pursue a legitimate aim."