This week’s Mandy Rice-Davies award goes to a study which found ‘substantial’ religious discrimination in the workplace. The evidence? Religious people told the researchers they had been discriminated against.
What sort of discrimination did they suffer?
[The research] also found new examples of unfair treatment of Christians, with many telling researchers issues they had with being made to work on a Sunday.
So that’s discrimination is it? A lot of people have issues with working on a Sunday. For many, shift-work is the only work they can get. A lot of them would prefer to have a job which doesn’t make them work at weekends. But, alas, when you accept a job you accept the terms. At least, most people do. There are always some, though, who think that their deeply held beliefs mean that they can pick and choose which bits of their jobs they do. And, of course, for every Christian exempted from working on Sundays, another colleague has to cover their shift.
This is not, then, an example of discrimination but, as with so many religious claims, a demand for special treatment.
As well as asking people for their opinions, the researchers base their claims on a ‘review of legal cases’. Now that’s really odd because the number of religious discrimination claims lodged has remained fairly static in recent years. The Employment Tribunal statistics released yesterday show that 850 claims were brought in the year to 31 March 2012. Of these, 34 percent were settled before tribunal and only 3 percent were successful in a contested court case. In the majority of cases, the claimants lost.
If there really was ‘substantial’ religious discrimination in the workplace, would we not have seen an increase in claims and wouldn’t people be winning a lot more of them? Although religious discrimination cases generate a lot of publicity, when you look into the detail, many of the claims fall apart. The media frenzy may add to the feeling that religious people are facing persecution but there is precious little evidence of it. The courts clearly don’t think so, hence their reluctance to make awards against employers.
As every HR manager knows, there is a world of difference between feeling aggrieved and having a legitimate grievance. Lots of people feel aggrieved about all sorts of things. Many of us resent the fact that we have to work odd hours, have to travel so far, have to get up so early or even that we have to work at all. But we get on and do our jobs anyway.
Some religious people, though, think their beliefs entitle them to be treated differently. They feel aggrieved that they have to work Sundays, obey their employers’ heath and safety policies, serve alcohol to customers or deal with people they consider to be sinful. At the moment, though, the law does not class those feelings as religious discrimination. Long may it remain so.