On September 21, 2016, the Québec Superior Court issued a
(2016 QCCS 4521) concluding that truckers of the Sikh religion
were not exempt from the obligation to wear a safety hat while
completing certain work-related tasks out of their trucks on
various Port of Montréal premises.
The plaintiffs were truckers from different private
transportation companies carrying containers to and from several
Port of Montréal terminals. They complained that they were
denied access to these terminals because of their sincerely held
religious beliefs forbidding them to wear a safety hat over their
For a period of nearly three years, one of the defending
terminals established an accommodation process for Sikh truckers
refusing to wear a safety hat over their turban. This involved
procedural modifications to the loading/unloading processes aiming
at ensuring that the truckers remained inside their vehicle at all
times while the containers were handled. The plaintiffs rejected
this approach but other Sikh truckers complied with it. However,
the terminal ultimately ceased offering this accommodation because
of the major disruptions it caused in its operations.
In this judgment, the Court recognized that the policy imposing
the obligation to wear a safety hat for everyone accessing the
terminals is a clear breach of the plaintiffs' right to
religious freedom – both under the Québec Charter
of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights
Act. However, such a breach is justified considering that the
policy's aim is to ensure the safety of persons working on
these terminals and that proof of its necessity was convincing.
It goes to show that if an employer has a legitimate safety
concern, safety measures and policies can be implemented even when
they infringe on certain employees' fundamental rights.
However, the circumstances in which these policies are implemented
or enforced can potentially influence a tribunal's decision on
their validity. The absence of good faith or, as it seems to have
been the case in the present situation, lack of collaboration from
either party in the accommodation process will almost certainly
affect the outcome of a complaint.
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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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