The demographic make-up of the Canadian workplace continues to evolve and the issue of increased religious diversity brings new challenge for employers to manage.
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).
Clear Path is looking into four important aspects of this topic (the first two were included in a previous blog, click here to read now):
3. Prayer and daily observations in the workplace
Some religions require their devout members to observe periods of prayer at particular times during the day.
This practice may create a conflict with your company's work hours or daily routines.
It also may create a flashpoint between those uncomfortable with bringing personal religious beliefs into the workplace (particularly in such a visible way) and those who sincerely believe that religious devotion is a necessary part of everyday life and cannot be "turned off" during the work day.
Regardless, accommodating an employee's needs for time for prayer is not optional according to the Human Rights Code. Unless it results in a safety issue or would cause undue hardship for the organization, the employer has a duty to accommodate the employee's needs.
For most businesses, implementing some simple changes will allow them to meet the needs of all employees. This can include allowing for flexible break times (that workers can organize to coincide with the prayer times).
You may also consider providing a separate "prayer room" in your workplace. In addition to providing a sense of privacy and respect for those involved in the observance, it can also remove the distraction and potential discomfort for other employees of being present during these prayer times.
Tip: If your company does create a "prayer room," it should be free of any specific religious affiliation and be available for all employees to use for this purpose, regardless of creed. Create a clear policy about its appropriate use so that everyone in your organization is on the same page.
4. Religious attire in the workplace
Every workplace has the right to establish policies regarding the personal appearance and attire of their employees, which can include the requirement to wear a company uniform.
However, things get a bit more complicated when an employee wishes to wear religiously-based attire in addition to (or instead of) the company's uniform or accepted dress code. Depending on their personal creed, this might mean wearing a crucifix, aturban, a yarmulke, a niqab or hijab.
Human Rights Code states that employers must accommodate a worker's desire to wear religiously-based attire. Of course, the exception would be if it results in a safety issue or would result in undue hardship for the organization.
Most company uniforms or dress codes can easily accommodate religiously-based attire.
A more controversial topic is how an employer should respond to female employees who wish to keep their faces covered with a niqab or burka as part of their devotion to Islam.
Some people may be uncomfortable with this practice and feel intimidated in communicating with someone when their face is fully or partially covered.
In order to avoid potential issues with other employees or customers, some companies may consider creating a policy that all employee faces must be visible as part of their "employee appearance" policies (which could also forbid visible tattoos or non-traditional body piercings).
However, such a policy could leave the company open to a Human Rights complaint.
The company would be required to demonstrate precisely how the religious attire impacts the individual's ability to perform the essential duties of their position or how this has created an undue hardship for the organization.
It is unlikely that the Tribunal would agree that management or customer preference would override the need for accommodation.
It is clear that the issue of religion in the workplace demands the attention of today's employers and that a well-considered employee policy should be established for every organization.
Want some tips on creating an effective employee policy book? Join us for Clear Path's upcoming seminar:
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