RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION Respecting religion

Hilary wallis, HR director, Citizens Advice Bureau

The regulations came out at a time when we were already overhauling our HR policies in the context of a reward review programme.

In part, the review was also prompted by the need to harmonise our existing terms and conditions to make sure we weren’t discriminating against fixed-term staff.

As part of this we looked at our leave provisions – for annual and special leave. We had previously given an additional four days leave to non-Christian staff so they could attend religious festivals. But we soon realised this was in contravention of the legislation.

Non-Christians were benefiting from the extra leave because they also had leave over the Christmas closure and their annual holiday entitlement. So they actually got more leave than anyone else.

We basically removed the provision for non-Christians and replaced it with strict guidelines that make it clear that non-Christian staff must automatically be granted annual leave to attend their own religious festivals.

The situation was that something was in place that had been well intentioned, but we recognised the new regulations were actually going to render that provision unlawful.

Now that we’ve changed it we’re happy that we’re able to allow all our staff to observe whatever religion they choose without it advantaging one particular group.

John Schofield, International HR policy adviser, Save The Children

Our organisation has a very diverse global workforce. Although we are non-denominational, we receive a lot of support from the whole spectrum of religious groups, as well as from people with no religious affiliation.

The regulations made us cut back into our fundamental roots, as the whole rights of the child movement started with our founder Eglantyne Jebb in the 1920s. Even then she was saying the rights of the child were beyond and above all considerations of race, nationality or creed, something we have always tried to incorporate into the way we operate.

In many ways this has meant we have always been ahead of the game. From the outset we had age, religious belief and sex orientation as part of our commitment to treating people equally.

When the new regulations came in it was a case of drawing managers’ attention to them. More than anything, it was really about reinforcing existing good practice.

But one of the things we do look at is the sensitivity of managers for requests for leave around non-Christian festivals.

We’ve also incorporated a quiet room into our new headquarters for people of any religious persuasion to use. It gives people the chance to pray in a quiet place at the time they need to.

The fundamental message is that by honouring our founding principles, we have really come together as a team. People simply recognise that discrimination is just something that is alien to the whole ethos of Save the Children.

Angela Saxbury, Equality and diversity lead, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust

We were proactive before the legislation came into force as we had created a multi-faith prayer room in response to the needs of staff and patients. We also produced a guide called Respecting Religion at Work.

As a result of the regulations, we have stepped this up and now regularly circulate an inter-faith calendar so staff are aware of religious appointments.

We are also in the middle of a major data cleansing exercise that will allow us to get a better idea of what we’re dealing with and be more proactive.

We’ve also reviewed our mandatory training to encapsulate religious diversity. This includes looking at the cultural differences of simple things like booking doctor’s appointments and people of different faiths being more sensitive to certain issues.

But overall it simply links back to our general principle of respect and dignity at work. It’s also a case of looking at the barriers we have already overcome and continuing to be sensitive to the needs of our staff and patients.

We face a unique challenge because we’re in the NHS. For instance, something as simple as the food we serve on the ward can discriminate if a halal option is not available. We’ve also looked at our uniform to see if it discriminates against an individual’s beliefs.

This calls for us to maximise the awareness of staff so they are aware of their own perceptions and stereotyping.

Alison Dalton, Diversity manager, British Airways

We set up focus groups to try and anticipate the likely impact. We already had religious societies, and they identified the sort of issues we needed to think about.

The ability to pray during work time was very high on the list and we had a lot of negotiation around providing prayer rooms. It was really important to develop a sensible approach, as we simply don’t have the space in every BA building.

In the larger areas we did an audit and tried to provide access to the prayer room for all faiths. At first some faiths objected because they wanted their own room, and we had to explain that wasn’t viable.

All new BA buildings are going to build quiet prayer rooms into their designs – including the new Terminal 5 building at Heathrow.

The next major issue for us was uniform. We introduced a new range last year and were very careful to combine individual needs with the need for consistency.

Catering also became an issue. Not so much on board, but with staff food that didn’t meet the requirements of various faiths.

In many ways we really used the legislation to spread knowledge and information about the different cultures within BA. People tend to think in a mainly Christian way, and to change your way of thinking so that you understand and meet the needs of other cultures is probably the hardest bit of all.


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