Religion and the Workplace – Preventing Discrimination in Employment Practices


Sunday 16 January 2022 was World Religion Day.  It is celebrated to promote understanding and peace between all religions.   Faith and spiritual belief, even if not expressed overtly, is one aspect of diversity employers should be aware of especially when requests to accommodate that religion arise.  The large crossover between human rights and employment law means it is important that employers are accommodating of religious beliefs in the workplace.

Accommodating religion in the workplace – lessons from rugby

Varying rugby organisations have had to consider how to accommodate religious beliefs over the years.  Examples include:

Although these are not employment relationships, they can be used to help us explore how one’s religion may be a factor in the employment relationship.

Religious rights

The Human Rights Act 1993 protects the right to be free from discrimination on the grounds of religious (or ethical) belief. This right is also contained in employment law legislation.

If an employee believes they have been discriminated against, or an employer has otherwise not fulfilled their obligations to meet their human rights needs, they are able to:

Employer’s obligations

Employers are obligated to take reasonable measures to meet an employee’s needs under the Human Rights Act.  This is known as making ‘reasonable accommodation’.

In the context of religion, an employer’s obligation of reasonable accommodation arises when there is actual or constructive notice of religious practice.


What is a “reasonable” accommodation?

This term refers to creating an environment in which employees have an equal opportunity to meet the practices of their religious or ethical needs.

Whether an accommodation is reasonable is dependent on the particular circumstances of a case.  Some guiding principles to bear in mind are:

In the rugby industry examples, both amending the logo on Sonny Bill Williams’ team jersey and respecting Michael Jones’ decision not to play on Sunday are reasonable accommodations.  

Other examples could include catering for staff who do not eat meat or drink alcohol at a staff event, providing a prayer and meditation space or providing time for prayer.  It is important to tailor these accommodations to the individual work environment.

We encourage employers to seek advice around the possible reasonable accommodations they could make and monitor the effectiveness of these changes.

Disclaimer:  This information is intended as general legal information and does not constitute legal advice.  If you have a specific issue and wish to discuss it get in contact with the Black Door Law team.