It is against the law to refuse you employment because of your religion or belief. The only exception to this protection is where there is some reason connected with the job itself, or the nature of the job requires a person of a particular religion or belief. This is known as a Genuine Occupational Requirement (GOR). Any GOR linked to religion should have been clearly spelled out in the job profile or application form when you applied for the role. Guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission says the employer should have included a clear explanation as to why information about your religious beliefs was needed, together with an assurance that the information would be treated in the strictest confidence.
Questions about religion must only be asked where they reflect a clear occupational requirement for the post, and should ask for only as much information as it needed to establish that an applicant can comply.
There is guidance on the limits of the GOR exemption in the context of religious observance in Chapter 13 of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Statutory Code of Practice (PDF). These limits are very narrow. For example, it might be lawful for an employer with a particular religious ethos to insist on an applicant with a particular religion belief to fill a role that involves promoting or sharing religious teachings, but not to fill a role that does not involve this, such as working as a secretary or a caretaker.
If you suspect you have been turned down for the role because of your religious beliefs (or lack of belief), there are a few preliminary steps you can take. For example, you can write to the organisation, explaining your suspicions and asking for an explanation as to the basis for their decision, following guidance on asking questions about suspected discrimination provided by Acas (PDF).
You may decide to bring an employment tribunal claim. The deadline for bringing such claims is very short – just three months – it is and strictly enforced.
The first step in bringing any claim is to submit an Acas early conciliation notification form to Acas.
You can find more information about bringing a claim in our Enforcing your rights section.