Dealing with a multi-cultural workplace

10 Apr
The United Kingdom is home to people of a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs.  This means it’s important for employers to know how to deal with these in the workplace.  It’s not enough to say ‘live and let live’.
As a result of a number of cases have established judgment in the European Court of Human Rights.  This judgment has made it clear that employers have responsibilities for policies and practices that affect religion or beliefs in relation to employees and job applicants.
As a consequence, the Equality and Human Rights Commission have produced a good practice guide for employers and this is our summary of the main points.
Ascertaining genuineness of religion or belief:
Don’t spend too much time or expense investigating the sincerity behind an employee's religion or belief.  Only question a belief where it is appears obscure, objectively unreasonable or the sincerity of the belief is genuinely in doubt.
In such situations, employers can ignore requests when they reasonably conclude that the belief is not sincere.
What kind of religion or belief requests need to be considered ?
Manifestation of belief:  This covers clothing, appearance and jewellery with religion or belief meaning.
Time off work for religious or belief reasons:  This covers requests for time off work for on a regular basis, such as to avoid working on Sundays (for Christians), Saturdays (for Jews) or to allow prayers to be said on Fridays (for Muslims).
Adapting work duties:  Employers may be asked to adapt work duties to allow employees to avoid contact with alcohol and/or meat at work for religious or belief reasons. 
Employers are not required to comply with these requests on all occasions, but they should consider them seriously.
What steps should be taken to deal with a request?
Review workplace policies and practices to ensure that they do not unjustifiably discriminate against an employee who requests a change due to a particular belief.
Take all requests seriously and do not make assumptions about the significance of a religion or belief, or disregard a request because it is made by only one employee.
Assess the impact on other employees and on the business and consider how to accommodate the request, unless there is significant reason not to do so
How to ensure the employee’s approach to a religion or belief request is justified?
Seek to balance the religion or belief needs of an employee with the legitimate needs of the business and the interests of others.
Consider the cost, disruption and wider impact on business or work if the request is accommodated.
Check if there are health and safety implications for the proposed change.
Review if there is any disadvantage to the affected employee if the request is refused.
Can employees refrain from work duties?
Every request from an employee to opt out of part of their job requirements should be considered, but is not necessary to accept or reject such a request automatically.  Some employers allow employees to opt out of part of their jobs to accommodate religious or belief objections in certain circumstances.  This may be where other employees can cover the necessary work so it does not affect the effectiveness of the organisation or the provision of the service to the public.
If in doubt don’t guess, but do seek advice from those who know best! For more information contact Lotus Human Resource on 020 8150 9960.