Included in the handbook, called Distinctives, is advice on how to prepare for the forthcoming Equal Treatment Framework Directive. Part of this legislation, which is due to become law in December, contains regulations on how employers in Christian organisations are expected to treat gays, bisexuals, and people of other faiths.
According to Brian James, HR director at Mission Care, a Christian charity that provides homes for the elderly and was involved in creating the handbook, Distinctives is about sharing good personnel practice.
“HR professionals in Christian-based charities felt there was a need to encourage and prepare Christian organisations into good employment practices,” he says.
“We need to tidy things up, such as how we treat people on short-term projects. This is because employment legislation is beginning to cover every term of employment.”
He says another aim was to get the handbook published in advance of the directive coming into force in December. As it stands, the directive states that distinctively Christian organisations will be able to select or reject potential staff on the basis of their faith or sexual orientation, provided it is a genuine occupational requirement and they can provide evidence of their Christian ethos.
“It puts a hierarchy on various rights,” explains Caroline Carter, head of employment practice and partner at law firm Ashursts. “For example, the right to religious freedom trumps the rights of the homosexual or bisexual person not to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”
Carter says the legislation gives Christian organisations a fairly wide basis for defence. However, trade unionists and gay rights activists are campaigning heavily against this part of the legislation, and Carter expects it to be dropped. “I would be surprised if it stays in,” she says.
If it does, then Christian organisations that discriminate against people on the basis of their religion or sexual orientation will need to be able to prove that hiring them would go against the ethos of their organisation.
James gives the example of an inner city church which provides meals for the homeless and employs people to serve those meals.
“If the idea is to provide meals for the homeless, and that’s it, then one could argue that it’s just about providing sustenance to homeless people,” he says. “But if the church started it as a way of sharing faith, then there would be a genuine occupational requirement for those serving to be Christians.”
James thinks it is essential that all Christian churches and organisations define what their ethos and mission is. “It needs to be far more black and white in terms of where people are coming from,” he says. “Organisations need to formally work out what their ethos is.”
Distinctives is available through the Evangelical Alliance on 020 7207 2100 (www.eauk.org).
The handbook was produced by the Christian Distinctiveness Group, which consists of HR managers from Christian charities Agapé, the Evangelical Alliance, Mission Care, Prospects and the YMCA.
The Evangelical Alliance is an umbrella group for thousands of evangelicals and churches across all denominations.
Find out how the fire service reorganised its way of working. Read Reinventing the fire service on page 22 in this week’s Personnel Today