It is an unfortunate reality of life that many people especially Muslims experience discrimination at work based on their religion. A recent Home Office survey, for example, found that more than 50% of Muslims reported frequent unfair treatment from managers and colleagues.
|88% of Muslims believe that schools and workplaces should accommodate Muslim prayer times as part of their normal working day
(ICM poll, November 2004)
The introduction of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 in December last year should therefore be welcomed, since these Regulations which cover the full spectrum of the employment relationship now make discrimination on the grounds of an individual's religion or belief against the law.
These Regulations cover direct discrimination where an individual is treated less favourably than another because of their religion and indirect discrimination, where an employer has a rule or policy which applies to everyone but which in practice disadvantages members of a particular religion. A classic example is where an employer has a uniform policy that women must wear knee-length skirts. The only defence available to an employer is to show that the rule is a proportionate response to meet a legitimate aim.
Often we find that although we may not actually be discriminated against at work, we may be the subject of jokes and teasing related to our religion from our colleagues. The Regulations therefore make provisions for harassment based on a person's religion to also be outlawed, but also acknowledge that outlawing certain treatment now cannot make up for years of discrimination in the past. Provisions are therefore made for positive action, where employers can take positive steps to redress previous inequalities in the workplace.
However the most significant change as far as Muslims are concerned, is the fact that employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate religious practices at work. Muslims can now ask for prayer facilities or for flexible working hours so they can attend Jummah (Friday congregational) prayers.
A request can only be refused if it would cause an undue financial or business burden on an employer. It would therefore be unlikely that a large company with many vacant meeting rooms could legitimately refuse a Muslim employee's request that they be allowed a quiet area in which to pray; on the other hand a small company operating out of two rooms would be justified in refusing, as they would not practically be able to accommodate the request. However they would then have to consider other alternatives, such as allowing the individual to attend a mosque to pray, if one is located nearby. These provisions can affect a whole range of areas, from time off for religious obligations and festivals, including Eid and Hajj, to dietary requirements at work.
It is changes like these that are likely to make the most difference in practice, and it is therefore essential that everyone is aware of what the Regulations mean in practice. Therefore the MCB are organising a series of seminars to raise awareness and implications of the regulations for both employers and employees. The following seminars have been planned:
||Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre
||Thursday, 16th December. 9.30 am-1.00pm
||MCB-East Midlands Office, Leicester
||Monday, 10th January. 2.00-5.00pm.
||Indian Muslim Welfare Society, Batley
||Tuesday, 8th February. 2.00-5.00pm.
||Cardiff Town Hall
||Tuesday, 2st March. 2.00-5.00pm.
||East London Mosque
||Thursday, 17th March. 9.30am-1.00pm.
If you are interested in attending or would like more information please contact Ruqayya Mohamedali or Hasan Patel at
or call 020 8305 6357.
MCBs DTI Team