Religious belief and political opinion discrimination

It is against the law for an employer to discriminate against you because of your religious or similar philosophical beliefs or political opinions. Find out about your rights and what you can do if you're worried about discrimination.

Religious or similar philosophical belief and political opinion explained

There's no specific list, but religious belief includes all major religions and less widely practised ones. Philosophical belief covers other beliefs about weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behaviour.

You’re protected by law from discrimination on the grounds of political opinion.  Political opinion is not limited solely to Northern Ireland constitutional politics.  However, a political opinion which includes approval or acceptance of the use of violence for political purposes in Northern Ireland is excluded from protection.

If it's uncertain what counts as a religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion under law, a Fair Employment Tribunal can decide.

Types of discrimination

Direct discrimination

You have the right not to be treated less favourably than someone else because of your religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion, or your perceived religious or philosophical belief or political opinion.

An example of direct discrimination is where the best candidate at interview is not appointed to a job because of their religion while a less able candidate of a different religion is offered the post. 

Indirect discrimination

You have the right not to be disadvantaged by a policy at work because of your religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion. 

Indirect discrimination occurs when a policy is applied equally to everyone, but which may put people of a particular belief or political opinion at a disadvantage.  Where they are disadvantaged in this way, a person is indirectly discriminated  against if he or she is put at that disadvantage, unless the person applying the policy can justify it.

An example of indirect discrimination is where an employer whose workforce is wholly or mainly one religion offers opportunities for promotion to internal candidates only.  The policy of promoting internally may not be intended to prevent people from the under–represented religion from applying but it has that effect.

Harassment and victimisation

You have the right not to be bullied or made fun of at work, or in a work-related setting, such as a social event, because of your religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion. You also have the right not to be victimised. You shouldn't be treated less favourably because you've complained (or been involved in a complaint) about religious or political opinion discrimination.

If you're bullied or victimised in the mistaken belief that you're a member of another religion, you may also be protected under race discrimination laws.

What you should do next

If you think you've been discriminated against because of your religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion, you can talk to your:

  • employer
  • human resources department
  • trade union representative, if you belong to a union

Keep a written record of any bullying or harassment. You should also tell your employer about any medical help you seek as a result of bullying. If possible, try to resolve the matter informally, but if not, you can follow your employer's grievance procedure.

As a last resort, if you feel you've been discriminated against, you can make a claim at a Fair EmploymentTribunal.

Where you can get help

Advice NI can provide free and impartial advice. 

If you're a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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