Religious employees feel under pressure to keep their beliefs and faith symbols hidden while at work, according to a study by the equality watchdog.
Those who were openly Christian complained of being mocked as bigots, while Jewish and Muslim workers reported finding it hard to get time off work for religious reasons, the research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found.
Meanwhile, atheists and humanists who responded to the survey said they had experienced unwanted conversion attempts and felt excluded from company events held in religious buildings.
And children of Christian parents were said to have been “ridiculed” for their beliefs, while humanist parents claimed their youngsters had also been mocked – including one told they did not deserve Christmas presents as they did not believe in God.
The research, based on 2,483 responses from individuals and organisations, comes as the watchdog prepares a report into laws protecting religious freedoms and looks to issue guidelines for employers and the public.
Mark Hammond, CEO of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “How the law deals with religion and other beliefs in work, in providing services and in public debate has become a matter of considerable controversy.
“What we found from the thousands of responses we received was a complex picture of different opinions and experiences. However, what came out strongly was the widespread confusion about the law, leading to some resentment and tensions between groups and anxiety for employers who fear falling foul of what they see as complicated equality and human rights legislation.
“We also found examples of organisations which had taken a constructive approach to dealing with issues of religion or belief, with employees providing positive experiences of diverse and inclusive workplaces.”
Other examples cited by people who responded include a Catholic who was unable to wear a crucifix or rosary while others had nose rings and piercings and a law firm manager who faced objections to organising a Christmas party as it promoted religion.
Some Christian businesses reported being “in turmoil” over whether actions might breach the Equality Act, aimed at preventing discrimination in the workplace.
Mr Hammond added: “We’ll use this evidence as we examine how effective the law is in this area and develop guidance which we hope will help everyone address some of the issues which have come out of the consultation.”