But the statutory protections are a “shield”, not a “sword”. The idea is to protect people from being treated worse than anyone else because of their belief. They are a protection – not something we can use at work to make everyone else do what our faith seems to us to require.
An employee cannot call on the regulations to justify attempts to convert co-workers to their beliefs . So a Jehovah’s witness cannot claim the right to try to convert their co-workers during working time.
Employees cannot claim protection of their beliefs to justify ill-treatment of co-workers. This will not justify ill treatment of gay people at work if your religion seems to forbid homosexuality any more than it would justify the ill treatment of unmarried mums at work if your religion requires chastity.
Whilst there is some inconsistency of treatment when it comes to wearing religiously required clothing at work (Sikhs and turbans, muslim women and veils, Christians and crosses) we all need to steer our way tactfully back to the simple fact that the workplace is where we go to work.
Any clothing or accessories that means we cannot safely or effectively do the work we are hired to do is going to cause a problem.
If we are not willing to do the job we were hired to do we need to find another job.
Whilst I have every sympathy for anyone who finds their job changed in a way that is difficult for their religious belief after years of service (and that is another story) we can’t have a workplace where everybody can refuse anything on the grounds of ‘belief’.
While there is room for a great deal of flexibility in the workplace – we don’t have to all look the same, behave the same way, wear the same things or believe the same things – ultimately we have to get the work done. That’s what we are there for.
Perhaps now is a good time to start giving a lot more flexibility and tolerance rather than demanding it?
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk. You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye and check our regular articles and news throughout the autumn on our blog site – https://irenicon.wordpress.com/