Biometric fingerprint entry & religious belief


Does anyone have any experience they could share about the introduction  biometric fingerprint entry systems and employees refusing to do this on religious grounds?

I have read the ACAS guidelines on religion or belief and the workplace, along with the judgement from the ECHR in January 2013 of the four combined cases about religious rights in the workplace. My issue is not about religious observance in the workplace, but a matter of an individuals belief that it would be against their religion to provide their fingerprint.  The system is being implemented by a third party, where the employee works and we are satisfied as to the data protection element surrounding this. It does not actually take an 'actual fingerprint copy' but records by binary code numbers.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have produced a guide for employers on 'Religion or Belief in the Workplace' and this has been useful, but any advice or guidance you can share with me on this discussion would be useful, particularly on considering the request and business reasons not to accommodate.


  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    30 Oct, 2014 14:47

    Fascinating first post. Thanks for posting... and posing the question.

    (Not sure why your name isn't appearing as I would expect it too).


  • We ahve implemented a (by teh sound of it) very similar system acros a 15,000 person workforce and whilst there have been one or two objections no one so far has raised the religion card.

    I struggle personally to see what the religious objection could be (as in many ways its akin to having a photo of the person on an ID card and if anything les sensitive). Out of interest have they highlighted why they think this is against their religious teaching?

    If you find out you could try and counter with an expert opinion etc or just disuss with other members of the same faith group who are I assume happy to use the system.

  • Thanks Steve  - I have amended my profile, so it shows my name now and not my CIPD number.

    Keith, thanks.... they have said it's against their christian beliefs, in particular the section in the bible and getting the mark of the beast. I will seek expert opinion as I appreciate individuals have different ways of interpretating their own faith and I feel uncomfortable in questionning their right to have an opinion/belief, but if it is not an typical manifesation that is widely known, then how do I assess/question? if it to be genuine protected belief, rather than just an opinion or viewpoint.

  • Revelations 13:16-17 and 14:9-11 are the relevant bits in the Bible.  Apparently there are some evangelical christians that believe this refers to electronic fingerprinting - the mark and number of the beast represented by a fingerprint being converted to binary numbers.

  • Thanks Judy, yes those are the sections of the Bible that the representations have been made about.  From what you have said, it could be the case that this could be a  belief protected under the Employment Equality regs. 

    Any advice on how I may question this belief or should I be looking to get further info or evidence to satisfy ourselves that it should be considered as protected , as opposed to an opinion.  I know we should only question a belief in the most exceptional cases.  Perhaps I would be wrong to question it?

    It is a difficult one to simply accept at the outset, as the issue is complicated by the fact it's a third party requesting that we use this system, so we would also need to tconsult about potential adjustments.  It's been applied to all individuals, so I don't think it would be harassment, but may fall into indirect discrimination. The third party has very good business reasons as to why they want to implement it.

  • Sadly don't have any advice for you, but as someone who is passionate about technology and interested in diversity, I am fascinated by the question and really interested to hear what you come up with as a solution.

    I used to work at a computer-aided test centre (driving theory tests!), and we took finger prints for identify and security purposes - never had anyone object to it for this reason! 

    I do think there are issues with fingerprint identify recognition though - accessibility wise it can pose issues for people with disabilities and I do think there are probably better alternatives out there tech-wise too.

    Has your third-party come across this issue before? Have they thought of alternative methods?



  • Sadly with many of the religious texts in the world you can read into them almost anything you want to (and in many of them the contrary viewpoint as well if you so wish). I am sure the 1-2 Century authors of the Bible had biometric fingerprinting at the top of them minds when drafting that particular part of the Book of Revelations. But nevertheless if the view is sincerely held by the believer (rather than being a frivolous objection to something they just dont like) then you have to deal with it as such.

    Its probably worth reading up on the CIPD FAQ on this type of issue (not quite the same but doubt the same question has been specifically tested in law) . Gives some good guidance on how to approach these type of issues.

    The bottom line is you can in many ways strike a balance depending on why you need teh activity to take place.

  • An original and welcoming first post.

    What a load of nonsense.!!

     I suppose they also don't agree with police taking fingerprints?  And won't buy or use cars and locks  with fingerprint recognition?

    I wonder what branch of church they go to?  

  • Thanks everyone.  That's what my initial thoughts were David, but after following Keith's advice and reading the CIPD FAQ's on this subject, particulary the one about 'how does an employer decide if an employee's actions or behavour are really required', I see that employers should take all religion and belief requests seriously.

    You do raise a good point about the police fingerprinting, and I bet they are taken by a sophisticated CSI style approach now and  digitally  converted into binary code, so whether or not they would refuse this is another matter.  I will add in at this stage that their grievance is about forcibly giving their fingerprint, so perhaps this issue would not be raised if they were willing to give it.

    The third party has not come accross this before, so it is our organisation that will need to go back to them, if we think the belief is reasonable or to locate the employee.

    I have read a lot of points of law in the past week or so and the advice on this forum has been useful.   I think I am now in a position to provide advice on where to steer this, so once this is done i'll drop a line to say what happened!

  • Hi Elizabeth

    Think you're right to take these objections seriously, nonsensical although they do seem at first. There's a bit of 'form' on this matter in the USA, with a few lawsuits on the go, but no judgments so far conclusive. Therefore, it wouldn't be too difficult for a UK claimant to point to the organised opposition to biometrics on religious grounds over the pond and thus to claim that it's indeed a belief held by groupings elsewhere and not just the belief of one person alone.

    The main defence to any claim of unlawful discrimination is of course  that the discrimination can be 'objectively justified' - ie that it amounts to ' a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim' You are thus more or less obliged fully to consider all possible alternatives to imposing such a system upon someone who objects to it on religious grounds. It may be that there's no other feasible workaround, but at least you'll demonstrably  have tried to find one.

    provided you do tread carefully like this, you may need to weigh up the likely consequences of rejecting their objections. You'd have a reasonable defence against a possible unlawful discrimination claim, which is going to be likely to be very expensive for the objector to bring to the courts etc. Is this a very likely possibility? - perhaps only if eg there's a bunch of such believers with deep enough pockets to pay for a challenge they don't stand a big chance of ever winning (if you've done your best with the objective justification stuff).

    Because it's a third party imposing such a system on your organisation, I think it makes it a much stronger objective justification defence, potentially. And you might try asking the third party to indemnify your organisation against the costs of defending any unlawful discrimination claim - maybe the indemnity chain could go all the way back to the suppliers of the biometric hardware itself? 


  • The law protects those whose beliefs are genuine and there is also a test about whether the particular objection is a necessary part of the religion not just a crakcpot view of a bunch of extremists. I am fairly sure this is not how the courts have put it but perhaps that is why it is less well known!