The great Scientology debate has been raging recently, with famous followers such as John Travolta influencing and raising its awareness. Only last month BBC reporter John Sweeney was reprimanded for his outburst when investigating this controversial religion for Panorama.
Whatever your beliefs and personal stance, as employers you need to sit up and take note as Scientology is among the many new religious movements now covered under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, following recent amendments.
If the lawyers are to be believed, this change in law could have far reaching consequences, as it potentially extends protection from discrimination to workers who hold a wide range of philosophical beliefs including Marxists, pacifists and humanists. (See page 12)
How to treat expressions of religious belief in the workplace is now a burning, albeit emotive issue. It’s clear that practical considerations such as converting office space into prayer rooms and granting requests to take time off for religious festivals and holidays will become more common for employers as we move towards a multi-faith society.
Recent high-profile cases such as the Azmi veil dispute have highlighted the thorny issue of restrictions on dress, while others have focused on the display of religious symbols at work.
Despite all this, few employers have so far placed their faith in having an explicit policy on religion and belief discrimination.
But there’s no doubt that clear thinking about religion and belief in the workplace is required if employers are to avoid claims. Come October this year, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights will take responsibility for regulating equality in respect of religion and belief along with sexual orientation, age and human rights – so employers should be prepared.