The protection of freedom of religion or belief in the workplace
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 29 January 2020 (5th Sitting) (see Doc. 15015, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human
Rights, rapporteur: Mr Davor Ivo Stier). Text
adopted by the Assembly on 29 January 2020 (5th Sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly recalls
that Europe is home to a wide range of religious beliefs and that
it promotes a culture of “living together” based on religious pluralism.
On many occasions, it has condemned acts of intolerance and discrimination
on grounds of religion or belief and has called on Council of Europe
member States to take stronger measures to combat such acts.
3. The Assembly recalls that the freedom of thought, conscience
and religion is a universal human right enshrined in Article 18
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9
of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, the Convention).
Moreover, discrimination on grounds of religion or belief is prohibited
under Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, Article 14 of the Convention and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12
to the Convention (ETS No. 177).
4. The freedom of thought, conscience and religion has both an
internal and an external aspect. The internal aspect – the right
to hold or not to hold a belief and to change religion or belief
as a matter of conscience – is an absolute right and cannot be subject
to limitations. The external aspect – the freedom to manifest one’s
religion or beliefs “either alone or in community with others and
in public or private” – is not absolute. Any restrictions on it
must, however, be “prescribed by law” and “necessary in a democratic
society” and must pursue a legitimate aim. The legitimate aims are
public safety, the protection of public order, health or morals,
or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This implies,
amongst other things, that any interference with the manifestation
of religion or belief must be proportionate to the legitimate aim
5. The Assembly recalls that freedom to manifest one’s religion
or belief applies also in the workplace and that the European Court
of Human Rights has developed an extensive case law on this issue.
It also stresses that religion is an essential aspect of a person’s
identity and that religious identity encompasses religious practice
as well as belief. Given the fact that many people spend a large
part of their daily lives at work, ensuring the non-discrimination
of employees on grounds of their religion or belief is thus of crucial
6. The Assembly also notes that the presence of members of different
religious or non-religious groups may cause challenges in the workplace
that some employers may try to resolve by imposing prima facie neutral rules.
However, the application of prima facie neutral rules in the workplace
– such as those on dress codes, dietary rules, public holidays or
labour regulations – can lead to indirect discrimination of representatives
of certain religious groups, even if they are not targeted specifically.
7. The Assembly reaffirms that member States have an obligation
to ensure non-discrimination in the workplace including on the grounds
of religion or belief. The freedom of employees to practice their
religion or belief may only be restricted if the restrictions are
in line with international human rights law standards, are necessary,
proportionate, and pursue a legitimate aim.
The Assembly, therefore, calls on Council of Europe member
8.1 promote a culture
of tolerance and “living together” in a religiously pluralist society,
in accordance with Articles 9 and 14 of the Convention and other
international legal instruments on human rights protection;
8.2 ensure that the right of all individuals under their jurisdiction
to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is respected, without
impairing for anyone the other rights guaranteed by the Convention and
other international human rights instruments;
8.3 take all necessary measures to combat discrimination based
on religion or belief in all fields of civil, economic, political
and cultural life.
Given the importance of the right to manifest one’s religion
or belief in the workplace, the Assembly calls on Council of Europe
member States to:
9.1 adopt effective
anti-discrimination legislation which covers the prohibition of
discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and establish appropriate
monitoring mechanisms to assess its implementation, if this has
not yet been done;
9.2 take legislative and any other appropriate measures, in
order to ensure that employees can lodge a claim that their right
to non-discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief has been
9.3 establish appropriate adjudication and other adequate
mechanisms to deal with claims of discrimination on the grounds
of religion or belief, or any other prohibited grounds;
9.4 provide training and advice to public and private employers
in order to heighten their awareness of the notions of religion
and religious diversity, as well as the right to non-discrimination;
9.5 encourage dialogue between employers, religious communities,
trade unions and non-governmental organisations working for the
protection of human rights in order to foster co-operation and tolerance;
9.6 promote the work of national human rights institutions
on combating discrimination, including indirect discrimination based
on religion or belief, and encourage them to develop training activities
for both public and private employers.