Employers confident about managing religious issues in the workplace

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Most employers are fairly confident about their ability to manage work-related issues arising from employees’ religion or belief – but only one in three has an explicit policy for doing so.

But research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) indicates that while two thirds of organisations support people in meeting religious dress codes, the same number are confused about which faith days staff will be celebrating and how.

The findings are in the latest quarterly CIPD/KPMG Labour Market Outlook survey of 1,369 employers, which was conducted in the wake of the public debate about whether and how employees should be able to openly express their religious beliefs at work.

Three quarters of employers with a policy support staff in taking time off for religious observance: in 15% of cases providing time off in addition to employees’ annual leave. Just under two-thirds provide staff with time or facilities for religious observance in the workplace.

Only around 1 in 10 employers with a policy imposes restrictions on religious dress or jewellery. This overall proportion is raised by employers in manufacturing – a quarter of whom impose such restrictions, usually for reasons related to health and safety.

And although 23 per cent of employers said the introduction of the regulations outlawing discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in 2003 had prompted them to introduce or change their policy, ‘following best practice’ and ‘improving employment relations’ were slightly more important factors in driving change.

Only three per cent of employers surveyed said they had practical difficulties in implementing their policy – but a policy on managing religion or belief in the workplace seems to convey relatively little benefit in terms of a positive impact on staff recruitment and retention.

CIPD diversity adviser Dianah Worman said: “How to treat the expression of religion or belief in the workplace is becoming a more pressing issue for employers as Britain becomes both a more multi-faith and secular society.

“The survey findings are encouraging in demonstrating that tensions evident in recent high profile cases relating to restrictions on religious dress or the display of religious symbols at work are not widespread in workplaces across the UK. However, it is likely that other issues will come to the fore as more employees bring cases against employers within the terms of the 2003 regulations outlawing religious discrimination in the workplace.

“To avoid this, employers should ensure that they have a clear policy that both removes any possible forms of discrimination and enables staff to make a fully engaged contribution at work regardless of their religion or belief.”

Sarah Bond, head of diversity at KPMG added: “The introduction of legislation on religion and belief sent a clear signal to employers that ignoring faith at work is no longer an option. We live in a multi-faith society, and employer practices should reflect this.

“We have active Christian, Islamic and Jewish societies at KPMG, and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all - irrespective of religion or belief. We believe that this makes a difference in terms of the recruitment and retention of our people, although the survey suggests that this view is not widely shared amongst employers.”

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