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Workplace Accommodation

Q

As an employer, do I have a duty to accommodate religious holidays not covered by statutory holidays?

A

The duty arises when a person's religious beliefs conflict with an "employment" requirement, qualification or practice. Human rights legislation imposes a duty to accommodate based on the needs of the group of which the person making the request is a member. Courts have looked to the accepted religious practices and observances that are part of a given religion or creed in order to assess those needs. The employer should do the same.

Failing to accommodate religious beliefs or requirements can be claimed as discriminatory, and in violation of human rights legislation. A violation can be a distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief. Human rights legislation protects religious beliefs, practices or observances, even if they are not essential elements of the belief, provided that they are genuinely followed.

According to Human Rights Commissions guidelines, accommodation may happen in the form of modifying a rule, or making an exception to all or part of it for the person concerned, after that person has made it known to you that he or she needs accommodation. Regarding the needs of a group, this should be assessed based on the accepted or shared religious practices and observances of the religious group to which an individual belongs.

For example, some religions require daily periods of prayer. When this conflicts with the employer's regular work schedule or daily routines, an employer has a duty to accommodate the needs, short of undue hardship. Accommodation can happen by offering flexible hours, modifying policy on breaks, and/or providing a private area for prayer.

Regarding religious holy days and religious leaves, the courts have already decided that the employer has a duty to consider and accommodate a request for religious days off and leaves (including paid religious leaves), unless to do so will cause undue hardship (s). The employer must apply equality of treatment which comprises at a minimum that employees receive paid religious days off to the extent of the number of religious Christian holidays that are also public holidays, namely Christmas and Good Friday, and in some cases, three days, if you count Easter Monday as a holiday.

The employer might use measures to accommodate by providing compressed workweeks, banking of overtime hours, compassionate leave days, and floating days if they exist within workplace policy.

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Please Note: Any information provided in response to an HR or payroll question is not legal advice or a legal opinion. To obtain legal advice or a legal opinion, consult a lawyer.

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