Employers have been warned by a leading management body to ensure staff are not discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.
The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has issued new guidelines on religion and belief in the workplace in light of a surge in religious discrimination cases.
They encourage employers to educate themselves on different religions and to “appreciate that there are differences”.
Managers are also urged to “harness diversity” and “understand differences without being biased”.
The CMI advises that it is the responsibility of managers to know religious discrimination law and make “reasonable changes” to workplace policies.
Figures for the twelve months leading up to April 2008 show 600 employees taking companies to a tribunal over religious discrimination. This increased from 486 cases two years earlier.
The new guidelines follow a string of recent cases such as that of Christian nurse, Caroline Petrie, suspended for offering to pray for a patient.
Andrea Williams of the Christian Legal Centre, which backed Mrs Petrie’s case, was cautious about the CMI’s new guidelines but admitted they were a good starting point.
She said: “Recent cases of manifest injustice and discrimination against Christians have shown that sometimes in today’s Britain a well-meaning desire for equality and inclusion can have the exact opposite effect, by discriminating against those who hold to the Christian Faith.”
“These are key issues going to the heart of our liberties and rights and we must have a thorough and genuine debate around them”, she added.
Jo Causon of the CMI said: “There have been several well publicised incidents recently which have bought issues of belief in the workplace to greater prominence.”
“Employers need to know the law and work within it, but they also need to manage relationships to ensure organisations and their employees can thrive.”
In January a poll showed that more than four out of five Christians (84 per cent) think that religious freedoms, of speech and action, are at risk in the UK.
A similar proportion of Christians (82 per cent) feel it is becoming more difficult to live in an increasingly secular country.
Recent examples of religious persecution in the workplace include the case of the Christian Registrar, Lillian Ladele, who was bullied and threatened with the sack after she asked to be exempt from doing civil partnerships because of her religious beliefs.
More recently Jennie Cain, a school receptionist, was disciplined for asking church friends to pray for her 5-year-old daughter who was reprimanded for talking about Jesus.
Last week it was revealed that almost two thirds of the Church of England’s General Synod believe Christians face discrimination at work and church leaders are giving a fresh call to Christians to stand up for their beliefs.
In the same week the Archbishop of York gave his backing to Mrs Cain and Mrs Petrie. He said their cases represented a “seeming intolerance and illiberality about faith in God which is being reflected in the higher echelons of our public services”.
The Archbishop added: “Asking someone to leave their belief in God at the door of their workplace is akin to asking them to remove their skin colour before coming into the office. Faith in God is not an add-on or optional extra.”
He added: “Those who display intolerance and ignorance, and would relegate the Christian faith to just another disposable lifestyle choice, argue that they operate in pursuit of policies based on the twin aims of ‘diversity and equality’.
“Yet in the minds of those charged with implementing such policies, ‘diversity’ apparently means every colour and creed except Christianity, the nominal religion of the white majority; and ‘equality’ seemingly excludes anyone, black or white, with a Christian belief in God.”