Government clarifies law relating to religious dress in the workplace

By agency reporter
May 16, 2018

Equalities Minister Victoria Atkins has announced that the Government will issue new guidance for employers regarding dress codes, including the wearing of religious symbols. Humanists UK has welcomed this guidance which they say, so long as it is correctly applied, should help both employers and employees understand the law and avoid conflict over this issue.

The new guidance states that employers should be flexible in their approach to religious symbols and dress, and not prevent employees who choose to wear crosses, head coverings or other symbols of their religion unless it directly interferes with their ability to carry out their duties. In a statement Atkins said ‘we live in an integrated and cohesive society with a proud tradition of religious tolerance and I want to see that reflected in workplaces across the country…As long as it doesn’t interfere with someone’s work they should just be allowed to get on with the job.’

This guidance does not directly change the law surrounding dress codes in the workplace, but offers greater clarification on what the law says. If an employer wishes to prevent an employee from wearing a religious symbol in the workplace, they must demonstrate that they have a legitimate reason for doing so, such as it might pose a health hazard by getting caught in machinery. They must also demonstrate that banning the item is a legitimate means to achieving that end and that other alternatives have been considered.

In 2013, a Christian employee of British Airways won a case at the European Court of Human Rights, which established that she should be able to wear a crucifix on a necklace, and that the airline should not ban such symbols as part of its company dress policy if they do not impact on the employees’ work.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, ‘Humanists UK welcomes the Government’s announcement that it will produce clear guidance for employers and employees regarding religious dress in the workplace. Over recent years there has been a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding company dress codes. We hope that this guidance will provide clarity in this area’

* Humanists UK https://humanism.org.uk/

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