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What you need to know about religious discrimination at work

by , 19 March 2014
When it comes to discrimination, employers tend to focus on racial, sexual orientation and age discrimination in the workplace. While this is all good and well, it means they end up neglecting another form of discrimination that's rife in the workplace: Religious discrimination. Don't make the same mistake. Here's what you need to know about religious discrimination at work.

So what exactly is religious discrimination?

Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs, says the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The site goes on to say that religious discrimination can also involve treating someone differently because that person is married to (or associated with) an individual of a particular religion or because of his or her connection with a religious organisation or group.

South African labour laws, as well as the constitution, prohibit religious discrimination.


We'll teach you how to implement Employment Equity in your company…


Warning: Never discriminate job applicants or employees based on their religion

Labour expert, lvan lsraelstam explains in an article on the Labour Guide that the Employment Equity Act prohibits unfair discrimination against an employee on arbitrary grounds. One of these grounds is religion.

lsraelstam says this means that no employer is entitled to discriminate against an employee or applicant for employment purely on the grounds of the employee's religion. He says, for example, it would be discriminatory for an employer to:

  • Turn down a job applicant because he/she was Christian, Jewish, Moslem or a believer in any other religion;
  • Decide that only employees belonging to a specific religion will be allowed to go to church during working hours;
  • Require employees only of certain religions to work on public holidays.

According to lsraelstam, while all of the above are examples of discrimination they don't always constitute unfair discrimination. Whether such discrimination is unfair or not will depend to an extent on whether or not the discrimination makes objective sense.

Look at these examples to determine what IS religious discrimination and what ISN'T

For example, turning down a Jewish person for the position of Pope wouldn't be unfair. So too would refusing to employ an atheist as a priest would be seen as fair. It also wouldn't be unfair to allow only Moslems to go to mosque.

'A key contributing factor as to whether discrimination at the workplace makes sense is whether or not it is based on the inherent requirements of the job' adds lsraelstam.

The bottom line is labour doesn't allow religious discrimination in the workplace. And you'll open yourself to all sorts of legal disputes if you allow it to happen in your workplace. So make sure you deal with religious discrimination in your policies and procedures to avoid having this happen in your company.

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