In a recent decision, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
("the Tribunal") decided in favour of two teenaged
employees who were fired for refusing to work on a religious
holiday. The employees are siblings, ages 16 and 14, and observe
the Christian Mennonite faith. They informed their employer two
weeks in advance that they were unable to work on an upcoming
religious holiday, which fell on a Thursday. After the employees
failed to show up for work on the holiday, their employer
terminated their employment.
The Tribunal awarded the employees a combined $17,500 in damages
for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect, and over $8,500
in lost wages.
In justifying its decision, the employer cited its attendance
policy, which prohibited employees from taking time off on a
Thursday because of the company's shipment schedule. However,
the Tribunal found that the employer made insufficient efforts to
explore alternative arrangements with the employees once they had
notified the employer of their intention to observe the religious
holiday. Accordingly, the Tribunal found that the employer did not
fulfill its duty to accommodate. This decision is a useful addition
to the case law on religious accommodation in the workplace, and
highlights the importance of understanding the scope of an
employer's duty to accommodate an employee's religious
beliefs under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
This article was written with the assistance of Samantha
Cass, articling student.
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Unfortunately, reasonable accommodation for employees in the workplace continues to be the source of significant litigation and even today we continue to see outrageous examples of employers behaving badly.
We are now beginning to see reported cases involving charges and subsequent fines laid against employers for failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker from workplace violence.
On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada denied leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal decision which ordered an employer to pay a former employee 37 months of salary and benefits following termination.
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