Religious discrimination includes distinctions made on the basis of expression of religious beliefs or membership in a religious group. This also includes discrimination against people who do not ascribe to a particular religious belief or are atheists.
Courts have had difficulties defining the term ‘religion’ due to the absence of a universally satisfying definition of the term.
The following features were provided by the High Court as helpful but not determinative aids in deciding whether a particular collection of ideas and/or practices should objectively be characterised as ‘a religion’:
the particular collection of ideas and/or practices involves belief in the supernatural, i.e. belief that reality extends beyond that which is capable of perception by the senses
the ideas relate to man’s nature and place in the universe and relation to things supernatural
the ideas are accepted by adherents as requiring or encouraging them to observe particular standards or codes of conduct or to participate in specific practices having supernatural significance
however loosely knit and varying in beliefs and practices adherents may be, they constitute an identifiable group or identifiable groups, and
the adherents themselves see the collection of ideas and/or practices as constituting a religion.
Although discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs is not permitted, there may be legitimate bases for imposing requirements in the workplace which restrict the worker’s freedom to practice a particular religion, such as:
a religion may prohibit work on a day on which the employer usually operates
a religion may require a special type of clothing which may not be compatible with safety equipment
a religion may prescribe dietary restrictions or daily routines during work hours which may be difficult for the establishment to fully accommodate, or
an employment position may require an oath incompatible with a religious belief or practice.