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Religion and Beliefs Guidance

This Guide is only applicable for those staff employed in UCL Australia


1. With effect from 2 December 2003 it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of their religion or beliefs in the UK. Whilst there is no directly applicable law in South Australia, UCL guidance must be followed in preventing discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.

2. Specifically the new regulations outlaw;

I. Direct discrimination - treating people less favourably than others on grounds of religion or belief;

II. Indirect discrimination - applying a provision, criterion or practice which disadvantages people of a particular religion or belief and which is not justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim;

III. Harassment - unwanted conduct that violates people's dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment;

IV. Victimisation - treating people less favourably because of something they have done under or in connection with the Regulations, e.g. made a formal complaint of discrimination or given evidence in a tribunal case.

3. Discrimination on the grounds of religion has always been unacceptable at UCL and is indeed one of its founding principles. The legislation, however, raises a number of issues that UCL must consider and guidance is given on these below.

Practical Steps

4. All religions have a variety and range of doctrinal beliefs, which may have different values and customs. Fair treatment involves taking difference into account, not treating everyone the same. If in doubt about your approach to a particular issue ask the individual concerned, if prompted by a genuine desire to get things right, this should not be offensive or resented. Advice is also available from the Equal Opportunities Coordinator.

5. "Attitudes and behaviour of staff are a more frequent source of unfair treatment than policies and procedures. Ignorance and indifference do not themselves constitute discrimination but in organisational settings can contribute to an environment in which discrimination of all kinds can thrive."1 It is recommended that staff familiarise themselves with the information on the ACAS website ( ) which includes 'Guidance on commonly practised religions'.

6. Managers should consider requests for flexible work schedules for individuals wishing to observe religious festivals and holy days. Dates for some religious festivals are approximate as they are based on lunar observation and may change from year to year, or according to different doctrines, or local customs.

7.  Managers should be prepared to make reasonable adjustments to working arrangements as long as they don't cause undue disruption, to enable staff to participate in religious festivals. Such adjustments, which could include approving annual leave, time off in lieu (TOIL), unpaid leave, and/or flexible working arrangements.

8.  In considering requests from staff to work over national public holidays and University Closure dates (which are mostly based on Christian festivals) in order to take TOIL to observe particular religious festivals, managers need to consider the corporate policy regarding access to UCL buildings during closure periods which is determined by the Director of Estates and Facilities and also the health, safety and security issues locally, before agreeing a request. Managers involved in both corporate and local decisions regarding requests from individuals to work during closure periods should consider safety, security and the supervision of staff working out of normal working times.

9.  Some religions have a holy day in the week in addition to specific festivals, where spiritual/religious observance or particular duties are expected. Flexibility in commencement and finishing times would assist devout Jews who may wish to leave work early on Fridays for Shabbat, as travelling by car, or public transport, cooking, phoning or writing are forbidden after sunset. Similarly allowing Muslims an extended lunch break on Fridays and to make up the time in the course of the week, will enable those who wish to attend the collective ritual noon Friday prayers, to do so.

10. Requests for reduced lunch breaks where an employee is observing a fast, should also be considered, bearing in mind the legal minimum of a twenty minute break for every six hours worked.

11.  There are also religious obligations in relation to birth, coming of age, marriage and death, which can vary according to religion, culture and position in the family. The Policy on Leave for Domestic and Personal Reasons already provides guidance to managers on considering requests for time off for religious observance and family responsibilities and the WorkLife Balance Policy will assist further.

12.  Legislation does not specifically require the provision of a prayer room/quiet room by employers, but if an employee requested access to a quiet place for prayer in the working day, an employer may be acting in a discriminatory way if they refused such a request. UCL provides a quiet /contemplation room for use by staff and students.2 The ACAS guidance points out that to fulfill obligations to pray may take no more time than to drink a cup of tea or coffee.

13.  Job interviews should not contain any questions enquiring about religious affiliation, or questions designed to reveal if religious requirements might conflict with workplace routines, or workplace schedules. If there is a need to specify the requirements of the job in relation to hours of work and any out of hours arrangements these should be made clear to all candidates and they should all be asked if they are able to comply.

14.  Many religious and cultural traditions require particular dress, wearing the hair in a certain way, having locks, not cutting the hair, or wearing head coverings e.g. hijabs, turbans and Yarmulke and/or wearing long or modest clothing which covers the body and/or the wearing of particular jewellery like the Sikh Kara, or bracelet. In most cases these should not be in conflict with office dress codes, uniforms, or health and safety, but sensitivity and flexibility should be shown and efforts made to accommodate the wearing of religious dress safely.  If you have any queries about such matters contact the Equal Opportunities Co ordinator. (For information about the requirements for UCL identify cards see

15.  Some religions specify dietary laws where some food is proscribed, or the mixing of foods is not allowed. Drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco may also be forbidden. Certain meats may be forbidden, like pork for example, or meat which has not been slaughtered and prepared according to religious ritual and law. Separate utensils may be required to ensure that milk and meat are not eaten together, or Halal3 meat is not stored or cooked with non Halal meat, or kosher4 food stored or cooked with non kosher food.

16.  Where a religion or belief has specific dietary requirements and staff bring food into the workplace, they may need to store and/or heat some foods separately from other food, for example to keep milk and meat separate, or to avoid contact with pork. Consultation with staff to find a mutually acceptable outcome is recommended.

17.  Be mindful when organising work functions and social events related to work, to minimise potential conflicts between a member of staff's religious beliefs and his/her ability to engage in social activities related to work.

18.  Naming systems. Ask for people's first names and family names NOT their Christian name. Ask how they wish to be addressed and how their name should be pronounced. Not everyone has a surname or family name in the Anglo Saxon sense of family name, nor will this always come last.

19.  Requests/representation from people with less well known religious beliefs should be treated with the same sensitivity as those with more well known or mainstream religions or beliefs.

20.  Try to avoid running training courses on Fridays.

21.  Be flexible in when breaks are available. Consider asking at the start of training courses when people would like the breaks to occur so that, if necessary, they can pray.

Further information:

Calendar of dates of main religious festivals:

Religious Festivals Calendar

1 Religious Discrimination in England and Wales Home Office Research Study 220 February 2001.

2 There is a Contemplation/Quiet Room available for UCL members of staff and registered students. This room is situated in Hut 34, on the path leading from the Bernard Katz Building at the South Junction towards the Henry Morley Building. Its opening hours are 8.30am to 6pm. Users are required to respect the code of practice for using the room, which are displayed.

3 Meat prepared as prescribed by Muslim law.

4 The preparation of food according to Jewish law.

HR Policy and Planning Team
Updated May 2009