Accommodating employees religious beliefs

As evidenced by the York University incident, accommodation of religious beliefs can be a controversial topic, particularly as organizations respond to an increasingly diverse workforce or student population.Generally, employers will be able to accommodate religious requests by providing days off work or short leaves of absence to allow the employee to participate in religious observances or holidays.

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The media attention that resulted in the disagreement between the student's professor and York University over how to accommodate the student's request shows just how difficult it can be for public institutions and employers to address this issue.

Human rights legislation exists in each jurisdiction that protects individuals from discrimination in employment.

The court's ruling did, however, clearly allow for the possibility of certifying a class of Muslims whose claim involved a more uniform set of factors or for the possibility of claims brought by individual Muslim employees based on their unique circumstances.

The Hertz Class Action In 2010, a non-Muslim employee of the Hertz Corporation sought certification of a class involving other non-Muslim workers in order to pursue a religious discrimination case against their employer.

By Richard Voigt Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of religion and require that employers reasonably accommodate the religious beliefs of employees as long as such accommodation does not create an "undue hardship" for the employer.

Historically, many of the cases alleging illegal religious discrimination have involved an employer's alleged failure to accommodate an employee's religious belief that he or she should not work on the Sabbath (a Saturday or a Sunday, depending on the religion).Ultimately, the class of Muslim employees in the Celestica case was not certified by the court, that is, the court did not allow the suit to be pursued as a class action.The reason was not that the plaintiffs didn't have a claim against their employer for failing to accommodate their religious beliefs.Following the implementation of this new schedule, several Muslim employees were disciplined or terminated for taking unauthorized breaks.They took those breaks because they did not think the new schedule adequately accommodated their religion and/or because the change from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time made the new schedule incompatible with their required religious practice.Recent events at York University have brought the complex and evolving discussion about the duty to accommodate religious beliefs into the national spotlight.


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