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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.
 
 

Religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion

Work related problem
Religion Politics

What you need to know

How we can help

The Legislation

Case studies

 
Have I been discriminated against because of my religious or similar philosophical belief or my political opinion?

 

If you have been treated unfairly on grounds of religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion, this may be unlawful discrimination and you may be able to challenge your treatment by taking legal action.

‘Religious belief’ covers any religious belief, such as, but not limited to faiths like:
 

  • Christianity
  • Protestantism
  • Roman Catholicism
  • Judaism
  • Islam
  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism


‘Philosophical belief’ covers other beliefs about weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour. They must attain certain levels of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and be not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Examples might include humanism, pacifism, veganism, spiritualism.

‘Political opinion’ refers to an opinion relating to the conduct of the government of the state or matters of public policy. It includes political opinions like Ulster Unionism, Irish Nationalism, Socialism, Conservatism and many others. However, not all political opinions have the protection of the law. It does not protect political opinions that support or approve of the use of violence for political ends.

You also have the right not to be discriminated against because you do not hold a particular religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion; for example, if you are rejected for a job because you are an atheist or agnostic or apolitical.

You also have the right not to be discriminated against because you are perceived to hold a particular religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion; for example, if you are rejected for a job because the employer believes (wrongly) that you are a Protestant or a Roman Catholic or atheist.

You also have the right not to be discriminated against because you are associated with another person who holds a particular religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion; for example, if you are rejected for a job because you are married to a Protestant or a Roman Catholic.

Is all discrimination on grounds of religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion the same?

No, there are different types of discrimination which relate to religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The main forms are:

 

Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others because of your religious or philosophical belief or political opinion. 
For example:  A firm advertised for a receptionist and held interviews for the post.  The best candidate at interview was not appointed because of their religion; the job was given to a candidate of a different religion with less experience.

Indirect discrimination is where an organisation unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect disadvantages people from your religious or philosophical belief or political opinion group.

For example:  An organisation whose workforce is predominately one religion decides to advertise a new post internally only.  This restricts the number of applicants from other religions applying for the post.

Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, on religious or philosophical belief or political opinion grounds, which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

For example:  An organisation makes no attempt to stop or remove sectarian graffiti being displayed in the workplace.  This is creating an intimidating work environment.

Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of religious or philosophical belief or political opinion discrimination or helped someone else with a complaint under the fair employment and treatment law, and suffered as a result. 

For example:  An employee is no longer offered the opportunity of overtime as she was a witness for a work colleague in a tribunal hearing.
 

How common is this?

Over the past three years we have helped over 700 people who have experienced some form of religious or philosophical belief or political opinion discrimination. Individuals have raised issues such as:
 

  • Harassment
  • Failure to appoint
  • Dismissal
  • Failure to shortlist
 

How am I protected against religious or philosophical belief and political opinion discrimination?

You are protected from discrimination because of your religious or philosophical belief and political opinion in all aspects of working life:

  • applying for a job
  • terms and conditions in a job
  • opportunities for training / promotion
  • disciplinary / grievance procedures
  • the working environment
  • dismissal / redundancy
  • job references

However, there are limited circumstances where discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion is allowed.  

One is where either a particular religious belief or political opinion may be required to do a job, for example, clergymen and ministers of religion, and some political appointments.

The appointment of teachers in schools is also exempted from the anti-discrimination legislation.
 

What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with your employer and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal 
    representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the tribunal.

NB: Only a tribunal decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.
 


Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600 (10am-4pm, Mon-Fri).

 

Useful publications

 
 

Time limits
Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of discrimination on the grounds of religious belief and political opinion.
Complaints must be made within three months of the date on which the complainant first had knowledge of the act complained of, or six months from the date on which the act was done, whichever is earlier.

< Work related problem
 
Ask for advice

If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.



Make a discrimination complaint

We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.
 
 

Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600
Textphone: 028 90 500 589
Fax: 028 90 248 687
Email: information@equalityni.org

Address:
Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

 
We have listed below current legislation relevant to discrimination on the grounds of religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion.  You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated.  The law is also complex and can require interpretation.  Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: discriminationadvice@equalityni.org or tel: 028 90 500 600.


Main law:

 


Supplementary laws:
 


European Union law:
  • Directive 2000/78/EC - equal treatment in employment on grounds of religion and belief, disability, sexual orientation, age
 

 
 
Gavin's Story
Religious discrimination case
 
 
Julie's Story
Religious discrimination case
 
 
Dr Lennon's Story
Religious discrimination case
 
 
Gavin's Story

Gavin Connolly joined Oakdene Services in August 2010 and worked in sales and marketing. His employers were members of the Brethren community and throughout his employment he believed that employees who were Brethren were treated more favourably.

 

In June 2012 he had been selected for possible redundancy and, following an unsuccessful grievance and a period of sick leave, he resigned his post in August 2012. Supported by the Commission he complained to the industrial tribunal. The tribunal held that Gavin’s selection for redundancy was religious discrimination and that the decision to make him redundant, together with the way his grievance was handled, amounted to constructive and unfair dismissal. It awarded him £15,618 in compensation.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

 
Julie's Story

Julie Brudell complained of religious discrimination following her selection for redundancy by the Board of Governors at Ballykelly Primary School in 2009.

 

Ballykelly Primary School is a controlled school with pupils from both Protestant and Catholic communities and at the time of the redundancy decision the majority of the pupils was Catholic.

 

 

Five of the 15 teachers in the school were Catholic and none of these was among the four selected for redundancy. The tribunal, in reviewing the evidence given, stated “it is clear that there was an awareness that the Roman Catholic pupils now outnumbered the Protestant ones, that the school had lost so many children already, and ‘would lose even more depending on who was made redundant’.”

 

The tribunal upheld Julie’s complaint and awarded her £8,250.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


 

 
Dr Lennon's Story

Dr Alan Lennon, OBE, a Protestant, was assisted by the Equality Commission when he brought a case against the Department for Regional Development (DRD) after being overlooked for the post of chairman of NI Water.

 

In March 2011, the DRD minister at the time, Conor Murphy, appointed a Catholic as chairman, ahead of four others, all Protestants, who were shortlisted after interview.


The tribunal ruled in June 2012 that Dr Lennon had been the subject of unlawful discrimination on grounds of religious belief.  The Department for Regional Development agreed to pay him compensation of £150,000.  


This was an important case because it established that public appointments, including those which involve the exercise of a minister’s discretion, are fully within the protection of anti-discrimination legislation.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements



 

 
 

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