Current law needs assessment to ensure equality at work, research finds

Thursday, 08 October 2015

Peter Edge and Lucy Vickers

Research by Oxford Brookes University academics has reviewed equality legislation currently used in court to ensure people are treated with fairness and equality at work.

Oxford Brookes University was commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission to review the legal equality framework in Great Britain which protects the right to hold and express a religion or belief in the workplace. 

The review, authored by Professors Peter Edge and Lucy Vickers from Oxford Brookes’ School of Law, looks at key issues such as how religion and belief are defined in the law, the legal protection for religion or belief, the balancing of competing rights and the idea of a duty to reasonable accommodation, which is part of the law in Canada and America.

It was great to take the expertise we have built up in research and teaching in this area and apply it to such an important project...the report is being fed back into our undergraduate teaching within weeks of it being released.

Professor Peter Edge, Oxford Brookes University

The review finds that the legislation and case law protects people with a religion or a belief and those who lack a religion or belief, but that several areas need more thought. These include the definition of belief and the position of the religious employer and religious service provider, and areas where the law is unclear such as the relationship between individual and group rights. 

Prof Peter Edge said: “It was great to take the expertise we have built up in research and teaching in this area and apply it to such an important project. Especially pleasing is that the report is being fed back into our undergraduate teaching within weeks of it being released.”

The review builds on the results published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission earlier this year after its largest ever consultation in which they asked people how religion or belief affected their experiences at work or when using services. The report revealed a wide range of experiences. In some workplaces, employees and employers could openly discuss the impact of religion or belief on employees or customers. In other workplaces, people said their religion or belief was mocked. 

There were also very different views about the legal framework protecting the right to hold and express a religion or belief. Some people thought that equality law provided a robust single framework to deal with discrimination and ensure equality for everybody; others has mixed views, and some viewed the law negatively, with some Christian respondents saying that the legal framework had undermined the status of Christianity in Britain. 

This project also forms part of the work done at Oxford Brookes’ Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice which carries out research linking legal and human resource management to develop best practice policies in managing workplace equality. The Centre’s areas of expertise include age diversity, gender equality, work-life balance and religion or belief.

The Commission will now begin work on its concluding report setting out its own views on these issues using the Oxford Brookes report as a starting point. The Commission’s role is to promote and enforce the laws that protect everyone’s right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. 

More information about the School of Law at Oxford Brookes University can be found on the dedicated webpages.