Religious belief or activity - Workplace

It is against the law to discriminate against anyone in the workplace because of their actual or assumed religious belief or activity.

Employees are protected from discrimination at all stages of employment including recruitment, workplace terms and conditions and dismissal

Religious belief means holding, or not holding, a religious belief or view that is not against the law. Religious activity means taking part, not taking part or refusing to take part in a religious activity that is not against the law.

Example of religions belief or activity discrimination

At a job interview with an insurance company, Mariam, a Muslim, is asked about her religious background. Even though Mariam is the best candidate, the Human Resources manager tells her he cannot offer her the job because he believes she will have to leave her workstation for prayer several times a day.

Racial and religious vilification

Racial vilification is different from race discrimination and is covered under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 which makes it against the law to vilify a person or group of people on the grounds of their actual or assumed race or religion.

Vilification is behaviour that incites hatred, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of a person or group of people because of their race or religion.

Find out more about racial and religious vilification.

Are there any exceptions?

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some general exceptions. This means that discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances.

A religious body may discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity or to avoid upsetting the religious sensitivities of its members. Discrimination may be permitted in circumstances that involve:

  • ordaining or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • training or educating people who wish to be ordained as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • selecting or appointing people to perform or participate in a religious activity, observance or practice
  • deciding who to employ in a religious school.

For example, a religious school advertises a position for a pastoral care coordinator, and specifies that the successful applicant must be of the same faith as that held and taught by the school.

A person may also discriminate if the discriminatory action is necessary for them to comply with their genuine religious beliefs or principles.

Complaints

Employers may be vicariously liable for their employees’ acts of discrimination or sexual harassment. Employers can also be directly liable. Find out more about who is liable for discrimination and harassment.

Employers also have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

Complaints of discrimination made to the Commission are resolved through a process called conciliation. Find out more about our process for resolving complaints.

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