By Nicholas Hartman
Employees who express controversial religious views outside of work hours can only be sacked by big companies who can justify the employee’s actions constitute a business risk, under new laws being planned by the Morrison government.
The draft religious discriminate bill, made public by Attorney General Christian Porter would give employees of big enterprises with a turnover of more than $50m, extra religious protections. An employer would have to demonstrate that airing religious views, in breach of the company’s code of conduct or policies, would cause the business “unjustifiable financial hardship”.
The new laws would also protect the rights of medical professionals such as doctors and nurses to object to certain non-life-threatening procedures on religious grounds.
On the other hand, the bill would also allow employers to refuse to hire someone due to the dangers to workplace health & safety requirements posed by their religious dress.
The draft proposal comes in the wake of footballer Israel Folau’s sacking from Rugby Australia after he published an Instagram post condemning homosexuals to hell.
After taking his case to the Fair Work Commission, Folau and his legal team obtained a certificate to escalate his case to the Federal Circuit Court.
The case, in which Folau will argue he was discriminated against due to his religion, is set begin sometime early next year.
According to the SMH, Porter, noting that he couldn’t predict how the Folau case would play out, said that there was “no doubt” the footballer would argue that he was “unreasonably” sacked for expressing his religious views outside of work.
The proposed bill does not cement a positive right to freedom of religion. According to the government, it will complement the existing anti-discrimination laws.
The draft laws also come in the wake of the Phillip Ruddock-led review of religious freedom, conducted in 2017. One recommendation from the report was that there should be a religious discrimination act.
The government expects to introduce the bill to Parliament in October. In between, then and now the government will consult with its own MPs and community groups. If the bill passes in October, a Senate inquiry and vote should take place before Christmas.