Iain Duncan Smith warns of dangers of religious discrimination in the workplace


Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has said it would be a “travesty” if employees were unable to carry out their work duties because of religious discrimination.

Launching a Board of Deputies guide which aims to help employers understand the needs of Jewish staff, the minister said it was essential that companies make changes to help religious workers.

“These sort of straightforward adjustments, quite often not fully understood, can make all the difference,” Mr Duncan Smith said.

“Importantly, as the guide rightly points out, what works for one person doesn’t always work for another. People practise their faiths quite often in different ways and there has to be a flexible approach to this.

“Fundamentally it comes down to one particular point – nobody should feel they have to choose between their faith and observance, and their job. It’s a choice they should never have to make.

“Certainly no one should ever be harassed, bullied, or intimidated at work because of their religion.”

The minister said that work could be the “spine that runs through a stable society” and that to deny people the chance to play their part in that effort “because of their religion is a travesty”.

The 14-page booklet, available online and in print, explains Jewish beliefs and values and the reasons behind observant employees’ needs for time off to keep Shabbat and festivals.

There are also sections covering kosher food requirements and Jewish practice after a death, such as sitting shivah.

There is further advice for employees on their legal rights and what they should do in the event of a conflict with their boss.

Speaking at the launch in central London, Mr Duncan Smith said: “I read through this guide and I thought it was another example of the tireless work of the Board to promote equality, religious freedom and hopefully understanding.

“It will help employers understand what the law is in relation to religious discrimination. Many of them are actually quite ignorant about some of this and it will be really helpful not just for you as a community, but for the wider community in the UK.”

In a message to the Board, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “We are deeply proud to have had successive UK governments which have taken steps to ensure that there should be no conflict between living a life of religious faith and building a successful career.

“Indeed, there are countless examples of the most successful businessmen and women, doctors, lawyers and senior executives who also live committed and observant Jewish lives.

“When appropriate respect and flexibility are offered by employers, Jewish employees will flourish. It is in this context that this document is so valuable.”

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