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employers braced for landmark religious discrimination judgement

10 January 2013

On 15th January 2013 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will deliver its judgement on four cases where it is claimed UK law does not sufficiently protect an employees’ rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. The cases can be categorised as uniform cases and refusal cases.

Two of the cases demonstrate the balance to be struck between allowing an employer to set a uniform policy and the ability of an employee to manifest their religious or philosophical beliefs. The court could conclude that every uniform policy includes a reasonable adjustment type term to encourage employers to accommodate the wearing of a religious symbol unless there are fair grounds to refuse. Imposing absolute rules is unlikely to be attractive to the ECHR.

The court should have less difficulty with the two refusal cases. Both employees accepted jobs with duties that required them to serve the public without discrimination. As the employee’s beliefs inhibited them from doing so for the very reason made illegal by discrimination law, it seems likely that the court will uphold their dismissals.

However, if any of claims are upheld UK law might have to be changed.

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