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Religion and belief discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against unlawful direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation for the protected characteristics of 'religion or belief'.

Key points

  • 'Religion' means any religion, or a lack of religion, and 'belief' means any religious or philosophical belief, or a lack of belief.
  • Direct discrimination occurs where a person is treated, or would be treated, less favourably ‘because of’ religion or belief compared with others in like-for-like circumstances.
  • Indirect religion or belief discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) puts an employee of one religion or belief at a particular at a disadvantage. An employer may be able to justify the PCP as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
  • An occupational requirement, where the nature or context of the work requires a worker to be of a particular religion or belief, or the employer’s ethos requires workers to hold certain beliefs, can be lawful exceptions to direct and indirect discrimination. 
  • Harassment occurs where unwanted conduct related to religion or belief violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. 
  • Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment because of carrying out a ‘protected act’ (for example, bringing a discrimination claim).
  • Employers are liable for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees ‘in the course of employment’.

Further developments

Tribunal finds a limit to when Ethical Veganism is a philosophical belief

An employment tribunal has distinguished the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, in which the employment tribunal (ET) confirmed that ethical veganism satisfies the tests required to be a philosophical belief.

In the case of Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College, a claimant tried to argue a belief that humans should not eat, wear, use for sport, experiment on or profit from animals, and that if necessary this would involve trespassing on the private property of others and removing their property. 

The ET in this case agreed that the first elements of this belief would meet the test of genuine philosophical belief, however the inclusion of the unlawful and illegal acts meant the belief was not worthy of respect in democratic society, and as such could not be protected against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.