Dealing with conflicting protected characteristics can often be difficult for employers. Protected characteristics such as religious beliefs can often come into conflict with other protected characteristics such as sexual orientation. It is important for employers to understand how to deal with these conflicts and how to make sure that their working environment is as diverse and inclusive as possible as well as abiding by legal frameworks. Employers can be held vicariously liable for the actions of employees; therefore, it is important to have procedures in place to manage risk of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
In the UK, The Equality Act 2010 recognises nine protected characteristics, and all have equal status, these characteristics are: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation. The commitment to the Equality Act should extend through all aspects of employment including: Recruitment and Selection, Promotion, career advancement and opportunities, Training and Development, Terms and conditions of employment, Handling of grievance or disciplinary matters. The equalities Act is there to make sure every employee and potential employee is treated fairly and without discrimination in the workplace.
Israel Folau is an Australian sports star and one of the top try scorers in Australian rugby. Folau is a fundamental Christian with genuinely held beliefs, and he regularly quotes bible passages in his social media accounts and is often seen delivering sermons as a lay pastor. Folau is now facing public shame for ill-considered social media postings including homophobic slurs, which led to his dismissal from the Sydney Waratahs and the termination of his central contract with Rugby Australia. His Twitter postings referred to a long list of ‘sinners’ and he indicated that hell awaited homosexuals. He is now bringing legal action against his dismissal on the grounds of freedom of expression and that his Christian beliefs warrant protection.
There are Difficult questions abound as to how the law recognises and deals with conflicting equality beliefs and it is useful to consider what learning points there might be here for UK employe.
A Useful way to avoid conflict is not only to have an Equalities and Diversity Policy which is read by every employee, but to also have stringent Polices regarding Social Media. Just because employees have religious beliefs which they are entitled to exercise, it is important to understand that they do not have carte blanche to express those views regardless of the impact on others. If an employee expresses views which can cause an offence to another employee, this can be considered bullying and harassment. In this instance employers should also have a thorough Bullying and Harassment Policy in case a problem arises.
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