Few topics bring up the same level of discomfort for employers and HR managers as the impact of religious beliefs in the workplace.
While many might want to bury their head in the sand around this issue, the fact that the Canadian workforce is becoming more and more religiously diverse makes this an important issue that you need to pro-actively manage before it becomes a problem for your organization.
Establishing clear and consistent employee policies (and enforcing them) is an important part of maintaining a fair and positive work environment for everyone (and avoiding a potential Human Rights complaint).
In this article we will be looking into 4 aspects of this topic (the first two are included in today's post, the next two will appear in a post next week):
1. Preventing intolerance and discrimination in the workplace
Most managers understand that any form of discrimination or harassment towards an individual based on their religious affiliation or other protected grounds is totally unacceptable and prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Code.
What you may not have considered are more subtle and potentially unintentional forms of discrimination. Did you know that asking a prospective hire about their availability to work on weekends may be considered discriminatory? This is because many religions have their days of worship sometime between Friday evening and Sunday night.
The exception to this is if working on a weekend is a bona fide requirement of the position.
In a religiously diverse work environment, managers must consider how to respond to a potential situation where an employee refuses to work with another employee because of their religious background, gender or sexual orientation.
It is a touchy subject, but you must be ready to communicate that discrimination towards fellow employees will not be tolerated, regardless of a worker's personal religious beliefs. Refusing to work or associate with a fellow employee, specifically because they are female or homosexual or a member of a particular religious faith, must be addressed through your company's performance management process.
Tip: If in doubt, we recommend getting advice from legal counsel or an HR professional.
2. Responding to time-off requests to celebrate religious holidays
Canadian holiday schedules have historically been built around Christian traditions. Two of our statutory holidays (Christmas Day, Good Friday) and our most festive seasons (Easter season, Christmas season) are clearly Christian faith-based.
With an increasing percentage of employees following a religion other than the Christian faith, organizations need to determine how they will respond to requests for time off to mark holy days that do not fall on a statutory holiday.
The Human Rights Code requires employers to accommodate these requests (to the point of undue hardship), however it currently does not require that time off be paid.
There are several options available to employers, including (but not limited to):
Regardless of the choice your company makes, it is critically important to determine your policy in advance of a request and apply it consistently across the organization.
Don't leave this important issue to be decided by each supervisor, your company will be opening itself up to unwanted complaint of discrimination. Imagine the ramifications of one supervisor allowing a member of a particular faith to have a paid day off while another denies the same request to a member of a different faith.
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