Discrimination: religion or belief

Article reference: UK-IA-EMP05
Last updated: December 2020 | 4 min read

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 prohibit discrimination (direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment) on grounds of religion or belief in employment and vocational training.

This builds on previous law that forbids discrimination on other grounds such as age, and that might limit the freedom of individuals under the Human Rights Act.

Although there is no definition of ‘religion’ in the Regulations, it does include all the mainstream religions and beliefs, as well as any other philosophical belief. Lack of religious or philosophical belief is also covered, so for example, Atheism is just as important as Buddhism.

Employers do not have to provide time off, per se for those employees who pursue a religion or belief, nor must they provide special facilities at the workplace for religious worship or observance. However, employers beware – it is wise to check that your “time off” policy (or any other employment policies) do not discriminate indirectly, for example, by not allowing employees to, for example, have Mondays off, ever.

Of course the reason for this is that it may discriminate against a particular group of employees more so than another group.

Religious festivals

Many religions or beliefs have special festival or spiritual observance days. A worker may request holiday in order to celebrate festivals or attend ceremonies.

An employer should sympathetically consider such a request where it is reasonable and practical for the employee to be away from work, and they have sufficient holiday entitlement in hand. While it may be practical for one or a small number to be absent it might be difficult if numerous such requests are made. In these circumstances the employer should discuss the matter with the employees affected, and with any recognised trade union, with the aim of balancing the needs of the business and those of other employees.

Employers should carefully consider whether their criteria for deciding who should and who should not be granted leave may indirectly discriminate.


Employers who operate a holiday system whereby the organisation closes for specific periods when all staff must take their annual leave should consider whether such closures are justified as they may prevent individuals from taking annual leave at times of specific religious significance to them.

Such closures may be justified by the business need to undertake machinery maintenance for instance. However, it would be good practice for such employers to consider how they might balance the needs of the business and those of their staff.

Dietary requirements

Some religions or beliefs have specific dietary requirements. If staff bring food into the workplace they may need to store and heat food separately from other food. For example, Muslims will wish to ensure their food is not in contact with pork (or anything that may have been in contact with pork, such as cloths or sponges). It is good practice to consult your employees on such issues and find a mutually acceptable solution to any dietary problems.

Prayer time

Some religions require their followers to pray at specific times during the day. Staff may therefore request access to an appropriate quiet place (or prayer room) to undertake their religious observance.

Employers are not required to provide a prayer room. However, if a quiet place is available and allowing its use for prayer does not cause problems for other workers or the business, organisations should agree to the request.


If it is practical and safe to do so, staff may welcome the opportunity to wear clothing consistent with their religion.

Where organisations adopt a specific dress code, careful consideration should be given to the proposed code to ensure it does not conflict with the dress requirements of some religions.

General dress codes which have the effect of conflicting with religious requirements may constitute indirect discrimination unless they can be justified for example, on the grounds of health and safety.

Relevant documents

Rather than editing employment contracts to comply with the law, you may prefer to draw new copies from staff employment contract templates provided by Net Lawman.

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