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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

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2 Religion or belief

Photograph of a person with both their hands to their chest.

Landau Law (no date) explains that a religious or philosophical belief must be all of the following:

  • genuinely held
  • more than an opinion or viewpoint based on current information
  • about a “weighty and substantial” aspect of human life and behaviour
  • have a certain level of clarity, seriousness and importance
  • worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Exploring discrimination

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2020) explains that although the Equality Act doesn’t provide a list of beliefs, case law has confirmed the following religions or beliefs are covered under its discrimination provisions:

  • Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Pagan, Humanist and Atheist beliefs.
  • Environmental or ‘green’ beliefs in the importance of climate change, animal welfare, anti-hunting, spiritualism, and beliefs in the psychic field.
  • Some political beliefs and affiliations if they significantly affect how a person lives their life.

Solicitors at Landau Law (no date) also provide a useful overview, including some interesting examples of successful and unsuccessful cases:

Cases where the court has found that there is a protected philosophical belief:

  • A belief in Darwinism
  • A climate change activist’s belief that humanity is heading towards catastrophic climate change and has a duty to avoid it.
  • An opponent of fox-hunting’s belief in the sanctity of life.
  • Ethical veganism (an ethical vegan is someone who goes further than following a vegan diet, by avoiding all forms of animal harm and exploitation, such as products tested on animals and woollen or leather clothing).
  • Belief in life after death and the ability of mediums to contact the dead.

Cases where the court has found that the test for a philosophical belief is not satisfied:

  • Vegetarianism.
  • A belief that individuals are entitled to own the copyright over their own creative works.
  • A belief that transgenderism does not exist.
  • A belief that a poppy should be worn early in November.

Enhancing your awareness


You may be aware of recent high profile cases highlighting the conflict between the rights of trans people and of those who hold gender-critical beliefs.

Gender critical beliefs can be defined as ‘the view that someone’s sex - whether they are male or female - is biological and immutable’ and ‘cannot be conflated’ with their gender identity (whether they identify as a man or a woman). (Samuelson, 2021).

As Holmes (2021) explains, these cases emphasize ‘the challenges for employers where staff have conflicting beliefs which impinge on the rights of others’.

In the case of Forstater v CGD Europe, the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that gender-critical beliefs should be added to the category of philosophical belief under the discrimination laws. However, they were also ‘keen to ensure that the decision was not misinterpreted as diminishing the rights of, and protections for, transgender employees.’

Activity 2 A high profile case

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes for this activity.

For a detailed overview of the Forstater v CGD Europe case, read this article by Kurnatowska & Farr (2021), which was published in the Employment Law Journal. Click here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] for a link to the article.

Make a note of anything you find useful in the box below.

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This has been a very high profile case, continuing beyond the initial ruling, and much of the commentary in the press and on social media has been highly emotive. This article is written by legal professionals and provides a useful perspective for employers.

The case you have just reviewed highlights the very real possibility of employees with genuinely held beliefs coming into conflict with colleagues holding opposing views, and the potential consequences in the workplace. Holmes (2021) suggests that ‘the risks can be reduced by educating the workforce in this space’ and that a Dignity at Work policy could be a useful step.

A Dignity at Work policy aims to support a culture in which colleagues respect each other and value individual differences.

When creating a Dignity at Work policy, Rogers (2019) recommends taking the following steps:

  • think about the type of work environment you want to create and set out clear objectives for how you expect your staff to get there
  • cover all bases in terms of who is involved, whose responsibility it is to enforce and why it’s important
  • set it out clearly, explaining each point and defining what is meant by each term
  • look at governing bodies surrounding dignity at work, including Acts and reports, and incorporate their principles according to your ethos.

The article goes on to include a template to help you create your own policy. Find the link in References.

In the next section you’ll find out more about some of the issues for transgender employees and their employers.