Muslim woman at School Direct session

Religion or belief discrimination

All teachers and educational professionals have specific protection from discrimination at work on grounds of religion, religious belief, philosophical belief or lack of religion or belief under the Equality Act 2010. 

Discrimination claim time limits

You are protected regardless of your religion or belief. Discrimination because you are perceived as having a particular religion or belief, or because you associate with someone who has a particular religion or belief, will be unlawful. You are protected whether you are permanent, fixed-term, full-time, part-time, supply or agency.

Your colleagues, managers and governors are prohibited from discriminating against you. If you are an agency worker on a day-to-day or longer term contract, your agency and the hirers for whom you are working are prohibited from discriminating against you.

There are some exceptions, however, for teachers and head teachers in faith schools.

What religion or belief discrimination is

Treating you less favourably than another colleague in similar circumstances on grounds of religion or belief would be direct discrimination.

Applying to all staff a workplace policy or practice, that you and other teachers of your religion or belief cannot comply with because of your religion or belief, would be indirect discrimination if it puts you at a disadvantage, unless the employer could justify the impact of the policy or practice.

When you are protected

You are protected from religion or belief discrimination before, during and after your employment. There should be no discrimination in recruitment including advertisements, shortlisting and interview procedures; pay, including pensions; terms and conditions of employment; access to training; opportunities for promotion; transfers; dismissals; and after your employment has ended, for example, in the provision of references.

Faith schools

Designated religious schools, including voluntary aided and independent faith schools and faith academies, may take into account your religious opinion, attendance at religious worship or willingness to teach religious education (RE) when making decisions relating to the appointment, pay or promotion of teachers. Such schools may also take into account any conduct which is incompatible with the religious denomination of the school when considering appointing or dismissing a teacher.

Faith schools may not use these exemptions to discriminate against teachers on any other ground than religion or belief, such as your sex, race or sexual orientation.

What is covered

Religion or belief discrimination would include not offering you a post because you are an atheist, or failing to promote you on the grounds that you have previously requested time off for religious worship.

Subjecting a teacher or educational professional to verbal or physical harassment in the workplace is unlawful. 

What is not covered

Treatment that is nothing to do with your religion or belief, which the employer can show is wholly and genuinely for a non-discriminatory reason, will not be unlawful. Treatment that you might feel is unfair will not necessarily be discriminatory.

Suspending you for wearing religious iconography or clothing in the classroom, that poses a health and safety risk or impedes your capacity to teach, is likely to be lawful.

Employers may use 'positive action' to encourage applications for vacancies from groups of people who are under-represented in the workforce or at a particular grade in the workforce. Employers may use ‘tie-break’ provisions to appoint an individual from an under-represented group if two candidates are as qualified as each other for a post. Contact the NEU if you need advice on an employer's use of positive action.

Employers sometimes specify that it is an occupational requirement for a post to be held by an individual with a particular equality characteristic. This option is rarely used in the education sector but contact the NEU if you think that it has been used inappropriately to your disadvantage.

LGBT+ speaker at NEU Annual conference 2024

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