Discrimination law protects non-religious as well, says workplace regulator

22 May, 2018

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), the public body overseeing workplace policy and conduct, has published new guidance for employers on religion and belief discrimination in the workplace. Humanists UK, who fed into the revision process for this new guidance, has today welcomed this publication, which provides much clearer advice for employers on the limited circumstances in which such discrimination can be justified.

ACAS’s new guidance aims to provide advice to employers and human resource professionals to avoid the potential for religion and belief discrimination occurring in the workplace. The guidance makes it clear that discrimination does not just apply to those who hold religious beliefs, but that the law equally protects those discriminated against because of a lack of religious belief or because they positively hold non-religious beliefs. Humanism, atheism, and agnosticism are given as examples of protected non-religious beliefs.

The guidance, at the request of Humanists UK, also contains a detailed explanation of when an employer or organisation with a religious ethos can restrict a role to only candidates of a certain religious belief. It emphasises that such occupational requirements only apply to ‘key roles representing or promoting the religion’ and that the religious requirement must be ‘crucial to the post, and not just one of several important factors’ or simply a preference. For example an occupational requirement can be used to recruit an imam, but not to all roles within a religious organisation such as a church cleaner.

Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan commented, ‘We are pleased that ACAS has published this new guidance, which should assist employers in knowing when it is and is not appropriate to discriminate on the basis of religion or belief in the workplace. We are glad to see that it has taken on board input from us regarding the application of occupational requirements in particular.’


For further comment or information, please contact Rachel Taggart-Ryan on rachel@humanists.uk or 020 3675 0959.

Read ACAS’s new guidance: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/a/p/Religion-or-belief-discrimination-key-points-for-the-workplace.pdf

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanists.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk