Handshakes could mean discrimination under new laws

Recruiters
should not necessarily expect all job interviewees to shake hands, as it could
cause offence and breach new laws which come into force in December.

Insisting
on a handshake could leave the interviewer’s organisation open to a claim of
discrimination, according to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel
and Development (CIPD).

The
report, Tackling Religious Discrimination: An introduction to the law, also
warns that serving alcohol without a non-alcoholic option at work functions
could invite a claim under the new European laws.

To
comply with EU law, the UK must introduce new legislation on religious
discrimination by 2 December 2003 to make it illegal to discriminate on the
grounds of religion or belief in the workplace. 

The
CIPD has published guidance to encourage employers to think about the
complexities and to help them recognise the need for action.

The
Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations will be covered at the
CIPD’s Annual Employment Law Conference today.

The
briefing document, commissioned by the CIPD, cites possible claims that could
be brought unless the legislation is clarified. 

The
implications for employers are enormous, given that compensation awarded to an
employee (or would-be employee) who wins their case is unlimited.

One
particular problem facing employers is the potentially wide definition of what
amounts to a belief.

Dianah
Worman, CIPD adviser, diversity said: “The Government needs to produce guidance
as quickly as possible to address many of the concerns highlighted in the
report.  With just six months left
before the regulations become law, the clock is ticking loudly for those
organisations wishing to prepare for such a major and far-reaching piece of
legislation.”

The
report makes the following four key recommendations to ensure UK organisations
do not fall foul of the law:


Ask employees what their requirements are, and where appropriate, whether they
would like to set up an advisory body on religion and belief


Review all policies and procedures, from recruitment to appraisal and leave
arrangements


Give managers diversity training and provide them with guidelines on how to
deal with workplace issues


Ensure dignity at work policies cover harassment on the grounds of religion or
belief and that these are drawn to the attention of all employees.

 By
Ben Willmott

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