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.