Improving public policy on religion and belief at work

Professor Lucy Vickers

Professor Lucy Vickers has been instrumental in improving the way religion and belief are protected in the workplace.

Her research has shaped Government policy in this important area, preventing hasty or unnecessary changes to the law and providing employers with a robust and reasoned process to follow when considering individual cases.

Thanks to her input, employers and employees alike now benefit from a simpler legal framework. Meanwhile, religious or sexual minority groups whose rights in the workplace might otherwise be vulnerable to discrimination, are better protected through equality law.

A moderate, yet robust, approach

Lucy’s research argues for more clarity for those seeking to balance individual freedom of religious expression with workplace requirements.

She rejects the idea of changing the law to add a requirement for employers to demonstrate ‘reasonable accommodation’ for people’s religion or belief, claiming it is ambiguous, open to dispute, and vulnerable to misuse. Instead, she advocates a moderate approach to considerations of religion and belief in the workplace through analysis based on assessing proportionality.

Her work sets out robust, reasoned criteria for addressing tensions, taking into account workplace context such as the size and type of employer, as well as the need to ensure equality and uphold autonomy on both sides.

Lucy Vickers
Lucy Vickers

Shaping Government policy

Lucy’s work has helped to steer law-makers away from hasty or reactive legal reform.

In 2015, against a backdrop of calls for the introduction of ‘reasonable accommodation’ for religion and belief in employment law, she was asked by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to carry out a review of the existing legal framework on religion and belief in the workplace. Her findings informed the Commission’s subsequent report Religion or Belief: Is the Law Working?

As part of its recommendations, the report argued against introducing a duty of ‘reasonable accommodation’, echoing Lucy’s view that the existing legal framework was largely fit for purpose, provided adequate protection, and did not need to be substantially changed.

“[Professor Vickers] has made an invaluable contribution to the Commission's work on religion or belief… both issues are hotly contested by stakeholders and in the wider literature and [her] clear, balanced, and authoritative analysis helped shape the Commission's recommendations.”

David Perfect, Research Manager, Equality and Human Rights Commission

Informing workplace practice

Lucy was subsequently asked by the EHRC to help draft parts of its guidance for employers on managing religion and belief at work.

The resulting document is immensely practical, providing a step-by-step approach for employers to follow when considering requests for accommodation or managing workplace tensions.

Publicly available on the EHRC website, the guidance is today considered the primary source of advice and support on this topic, and is regularly consulted by employers, employees, trade unions and other stakeholders seeking legal clarity on religion and belief at work in the UK.

Supporting calls for reform

As well as improving how religion and belief is handled in the workplace nationally, Lucy’s research is also supporting efforts to reform the sector-specific picture for teachers working in schools with a religious character.

Her work looks at religious discrimination against teachers in the over one-third of primary and a fifth of secondary education establishments in England that are so-called ‘faith schools’, with its findings ‘giving confidence’ to calls to change the law relating to these institutions.

Lucy’s research forms the legal basis of a campaign by the National Secular Society, Humanists UK and the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education for reform of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and the Education (Scotland) Act, which they argue are in direct conflict with the EU employment equality law.

These laws currently allow faith schools to take religious considerations into account when hiring or firing teachers, regardless of whether the subjects taught relate to religion. 

Religious Freedom, Religious Discrimination and the Workplace by Lucy Vickers
'Religious Freedom, Religious Discrimination and the Workplace' by Lucy Vickers

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