Observing Religious Holidays in Diverse Workplaces

In today’s diverse workplaces, employers are required to provide equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of creed or ethnic origin as described by the Ontario Human Rights Code. Persons who celebrate their religion on days which would otherwise be working days need to be accommodated in order to practice their religion.

“Accommodation” is the means of adjusting or modifying the work environment or the method of doing work, to the point of undue hardship, in order to address the individual needs of employees who are protected from discrimination under the Code, thus enabling the Employer to continue to benefit from the individual’s active participation in the workforce. Accommodation is not limited to persons with disabilities.

Employment accommodation is a legal obligation, as it is recognized that many of the barriers to equal participation by all people in our society exist inadvertently or due to a lack of awareness of different needs, not because people have deliberately sought to discriminate.

Creed is a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Human Rights Code. Although it is not defined in the Code, Creed has been interpreted to mean “religious creed” or “religion.” It is not possible to define these terms precisely; therefore, only beliefs, convictions and practices rooted in religion, (as opposed to those that are secular, socially based or conscientiously held), are protected.

Religion typically involves a particular and comprehensive system of faith and worship. Religion also tends to involve the belief in the divine, superhuman or controlling power. In essence, religion is about freely and deeply held personal convictions or beliefs connected to an individual’s spiritual faith and integrally linked to one’s self-definition and spiritual fulfillment. For example, to be entitled to Religious Accommodations as a Muslim, the person would need to demonstrate all aspects of Muslim observance, including clothing, food, and family values.

People who celebrate religious holidays which conflict with their regular work schedule must be allowed to take time off for their religious observance.  Such days off to observe religious holidays do not have to be paid by the employer. The employee can use vacation time or be off work without pay.

The need for an employment accommodation policy is essential from a Management, human rights and employment equity perspective, to clarify everyone’s rights and responsibilities.

Contact me today to set up an appointment to discuss your workplace’s Accommodation Policy.