Accommodating Religion in the Workplace

Updated: June 21, 2010

Action Plan

1. Create an Environment that Celebrates Diversity - When dealing with accommodation issues, an organization may be a best practice model when:

  • it addresses key barriers that affect employment equity and the provision of services;
  • it strives to ensure the workplace is free of discrimination and harassment;
  • it is pro active in providing the means for employees, members or clients who require accommodation;
  • it encourages management commitment and accountability; and
  • it provides clear and concise policies that address these issues.

2. Allow Flexibility in Accommodating Requests for Days Off - When an employee requests time off to observe a holy day, the employer has an obligation to accommodate the employee. Organizations are encouraged to allow employees holy days off for religious observance without suffering any financial loss, unless this would result in undue hardship on the firm. This approach is consistent with the understanding that accommodation is a means of removing the barriers which prevent persons from enjoying equality of opportunity in a way which is sensitive to their individual circumstances. An employee who is required to use vacation days, unpaid leave or who has to change his or her work schedule in order to observe his or her holy days is suffering a burden for observing his or her religion -- something members of the majority religion are not required to do.

3. Create Policy - Organizations are also encouraged to adopt policies that allow for flexibility in the number of days off for religious observance. Case law has suggested that employers should, at a minimum, provide employees with paid religious days off to the extent of the number of religious Christian days that are also statutory holidays. However, it is not necessary to limit the number of days off for religious observances to the same number of religious Christian days already allowed by the firm. The fact that the dominant Christian religion has only two or three mandatory holy days does not mean that equal treatment without discrimination will follow if every other religion is given two or three days off with pay to observe only some of their holy days.

4. Flexible Scheduling - The purpose of this measure is to allow a flexible work schedule for employees, or to allow for substitution or rescheduling of days when an employees religious beliefs do not permit him or her to work certain hours. For example, Seventh Day Adventists and members of the Jewish faith observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Observant members of these religions cannot work at these times.

Flexible scheduling may include: alternative arrival and departure times on the days when the person cannot work for the entire period, or use of lunch times in exchange for early departure or staggered work hours. Where the person has already used up paid holy days to which he or she is entitled, the employer should also consider permitting the employee to make up lost time or to use floating days off.

5. Dress Codes - While many organizations utilize workplace dress codes, it is important to ensure that all employees are respected equally, and that the dress code does not preclude garments that are required as an element of their faith. The only exception would be where the wearing of religious garb presents a bona fide health and safety issue.

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