The BBC recently reported on the popularity of an online petition for workers who feel strongly about wearing a poppy during the remembrance period. The petition which was initiated by Harriet Phipps has 10, 000 signatures so far. Depending on the strictness of an employers dress code, it may not be possible to follow your beliefs in remembering those who died during the war in this way.

The question that was posed by the claimant in Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd was whether being asked not to wear a poppy amounted to a form of discrimination. The type of discrimination would be religion or belief discrimination protected by the Equality Act 2010 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. It is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of their religion or belief or indeed their lack of religion or belief. The employer here is alleged to have prevented the claimant Mr Lisk,  from wearing a poppy at work.

Mr Lisk argued that he has a "philosophical belief" that: “we should wear a poppy from All Soul's Day on 2 November to Remembrance Sunday or it is necessary to show respect to those who gave their lives by wearing a poppy". Generally, if you wear clothing or jewellery for religious reasons, your employer should make sure any dress code does not discriminate against you. A flexible dress code is usually possible, as long as health and safety requirements are not at risk. If it can be shown to be a genuine occupational requirement, that is that there is a real and objective reason, in this case why a poppy badge could not be worn then discrimination will unlikely apply.

In deciding what will be a religion or a belief such aspects as collective worship, a clear belief system, a profound belief affecting the way of life or view of the world will all be considered. In this particular case, the judge in a pre-hearing review, concluded that however admirable, Mr Lisk's belief was too "narrow" to be characterised as a "philosophical belief" within the meaning of the legislation. Whilst there is no specific list that sets out what religion or belief discrimination is, the law defines it as any religion, religious or philosophical belief. This includes all major religions, as well as less widely practised ones. Political beliefs are not counted as a religion or belief.

Since there are no strict rules as to what constitutes a religion or belief, those wishing to know whether or not they are in danger of performing such discrimination should refer to case law whilst ensuring that they follow fair and objective procedures in the same way as they do for the prevention of more concrete forms of discrimination.

The Regulations are far reaching covering such aspects as what is necessary to respect  religious or belief observance in the workplace, such as the provision of places to perform worship or prayer for example. Even where the regulations do not require direct actions from employers it is advisable that they make a practice of  considering whether their policies, rules and procedures indirectly discriminate against staff of particular religions or beliefs and if so whether reasonable changes might be made.

ACAS have produced a guide for employers and employees entitled Religion or belief and the Workplace. The information provides tips on how to avoid discrimination at any point during employment including when advertising a role.

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