Legal Analysis and Protection Against Religious Discrimination at Work
What is Religious Discrimination?
Religious discrimination is a serious offence. Workplace discrimination includes discrimination due to a person's or spouse's religious beliefs.
Religious discrimination may be in various forms, such as denied employment, promotion, accommodation at the workplace, harassment, or being fired from work. The reason is the beliefs and practices of a particular religion or lack of beliefs or practices of a certain religion.
Discrimination in the workplace on religious grounds may also have serious financial consequences. As a result of being denied employment, promotion, or fired, people may depend more on their credit cards and other borrowing instruments to support their expenses. It can lead to an ongoing cycle of debt.
In such situations, various debt relief options, like debt consolidation, debt management plans, etc., can help you come out of debt. However, with continued discrimination in the workplace, the financial crisis may go on a loop.
An overview of the Canadian Human Rights Act on Religious Discrimination in the workplace
Religious discrimination in the workplace is strictly forbidden under Canadian Law. The Canadian Human Rights Act, Section 3(1) dictates that discrimination on the grounds of "race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered" are strictly prohibited.
Sections 7 (a) and (b) of the Act state refusing to hire or continue employment with someone or discriminating against an employee during work is prohibited.
Further, the Act elaborates that the following practices or policies of an organization are prohibited on the grounds of discrimination mentioned in Section 3(1):
Excluding a person from full membership in the company
Suspending or expelling a person from the company
Restricting, differentiating, classifying, or behaving in a way that would deprive the person of employment opportunities, limit them, or negatively affect the person's status.
In addition, it is discriminatory to establish or pursue any practice, policy, or agreement that affects the recruitment, promotion, training, and other employment-related matter that may deprive a person or a group of persons of employment opportunities on the grounds of religion.
Case: K.S. Bhinder and the Canadian Human Rights Commission
As per the rule in a company, all employees were to wear a hard hat at a specific work site. Bhinder, a Sikh employee, found it against his religious beliefs to wear any other headgear than a turban. He refused to adhere to the rule or accept any other work that did not require wearing a hard hat. The company declined to make any exception to the rule and terminated his job.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission stated that the company had participated in a discriminatory practice. Orders were made to reinstate as well as compensate for the lost wages.
Although the hard hat policy was validated under the Canada Labor Code and Regulations, it is not considered a genuine occupational requirement under the Canadian Human Rights Act. As a result, the Tribunal could order the employer to offer an exemption to an employee because the general policy did not satisfy the requirements of section 14 (a).
An overview of the protection under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is laid out to guard certain rights and freedom, for instance, the right to equality and the freedom of expression. According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, individuals in Canada have the right to follow or not follow any religion.
Also, the Charter guarantees they are free to express their religious beliefs publicly. These liberties, however, are not limitless. There may be restrictions on how to express religious beliefs. For instance, when certain religious beliefs or practices violate the rights of others or undermine demanding public programs and policies.
The Charter places a strong emphasis on equality rights. They aim to ensure that every person is treated with dignity and respect, irrespective of individual characteristics such as race, origin, color, religion, gender, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, marital status, residency, or citizenship.
Any person whose Charter rights or freedoms have been violated or denied could file an application with a court of competent jurisdiction for whatever remedy the court deems appropriate and just.
Protection Against Religious discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code
The Ontario Human Rights Code states that workplace discrimination based on creed or religion, intentional or unintentional, is against the law. It states that "equal treatment in the workplace" includes pay rates, overtime, working hours, holidays, benefits, shift work, discipline, and performance evaluations.
It acknowledges that prayer breaks, religious-based days off, and dress requirements are examples of religious or creed-based needs. The employer must meet these needs, except if he can demonstrate these could hinder the individual from performing the necessary job duties or adversely affect costs, health, or safety.
Religion encompasses the practices, views, and customs associated with a faith or religion. However, personal moral, ethical, or political beliefs or religion promoting violence and hatred toward others are not included.
It further states that religious discrimination in the workplace also includes the following:
Declining to grant an exception to dress codes in view of accommodating religious dress obligations
Rejecting permission to observe prayers at a specific time of the day
Declining a religious holiday.
In instances of religious discrimination in the workplace or harassment in the workplace due to religious faith, individuals can file Human Rights applications against their employer, contractor, union, or board of directors.
If you are a victim of religious discrimination in the workplace, contact us for assistance and legal consultation.
Case: Ontario Human Rights Comm. v. Simpsons-Sears
Theresa O'Malley claimed religious discrimination against her employer, a retailer, as her job required her to work on Friday evenings and Saturdays. This was against the applicant's religious beliefs, which required her to observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Due to this conflict, she had to work part-time since a full-time position that did not require Saturday work was unavailable with her qualifications.
In such cases, the appellant must prove a prima facie case of discrimination, after which the employer must demonstrate the reasonable steps he took without extreme hardship to accommodate the employee.
In the given case, the employer failed to demonstrate such reasonable steps taken by him. As a result, the judgment was held in favor of the appellant.
Religious discrimination in the workplace is an intolerable act. Any form of discrimination in the workplace based on a person's religious faith or creed is strictly prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act Sections 3(1) and 7-10, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and The Ontario Human Rights Code.
In the workplace, religious discrimination can be in the form of declining employment opportunities, training, apprenticeship, promotion or differentiated wages, working hours, refusing to observe religious holidays, or not granting exceptions to dress codes because of religious obligations. All or any of the mentioned forms of discrimination based on a person's religious beliefs or the belief of their spouse is unlawful.
If you have ever faced discrimination or harassment in the workplace on religious grounds, do not take it for granted. You can stand up against this unfair behavior by filing a Human Rights application against your employer, contractor, union, or board of directors. Alternatively, you can seek assistance from a workplace discrimination lawyer or contact us for legal consultation.
About The Author: Lyle Solomon has extensive legal experience, in-depth knowledge, and experience in consumer finance and writing. He has been a member of the California State Bar since 2003. He graduated from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California, in 1998 and currently works for the Oak View Law Group in California as a Principal Attorney.