If there is one thing HR departments should hold sacrosanct, it is the absence of discrimination. Whether it is disability, religious, racial or sexual. Religious discrimination is particularly topical in light of an increase in both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Both have arisen out of world events.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid said earlier this year he was “committed to ending discrimination at work and extending opportunity to everyone regardless of their race, colour or religion”.
However, a recent, crucial, opinion issued by a top European Court of Justice (ECJ) adviser said employers in the European Union might be able to ban Muslim staff from wearing headscarves to work but only if part of a general ban on all religious symbols.
“While an employee cannot ‘leave’ his sex, skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability ‘at the door’ upon entering his employer’s premises, he may be expected to moderate the exercise of his religion in the workplace”
Juliane Kokott, Advocate General
But this must involve “religious and ideological neutrality” and not be prejudicial against a particular religion. Although opinions are non-binding, lower courts do generally take them into account.
The View From Acas
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration service (Acas) points out that many employers find that being sensitive to the cultural and religious needs of their employees makes good business sense. HR departments would do well to heed this advice as employees who feel they have been discriminated against can bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal.
It can be expensive for the business, in terms of any award made. It can also be costly in terms of the damage made to a business’ reputation.
The View From CIPD
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says managing diversity and inclusion successfully is essential to good people management because everyone is different.
“Failure to deal with prejudice, stereotyping and unconscious bias regarding issues of personal identity, result in unfair decisions about the recruitment, development, retention and release of talent, and flawed approaches to the development and promotion of products and services to diverse markets,” it says.
More managers need to be aware that different perspectives, experiences and ideas challenge “group think”, stimulate creativity and innovation and, ultimately, contribute to better business performance.