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Religious Beliefs and Accommodation: A Subjective Standard

Whitten and Lublin | Jan 12, 2018

In Canada, employers have a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship if a policy or practice has a discriminatory effect on an employee on the basis of religious beliefs. For instance, if an employee refuses to use a biometric scanner on the basis of a religious belief, then an employer may have to accommodate. There is a standard, however, that the courts have used to determine whether a religious belief or practice must be accommodated for which was established by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, [2004].

Sincerely Held Belief – A Subjective Standard:

In the case of Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem, the court established that the standard to be used in determining whether the religious belief must be accommodated for is subjective. In particular, if an individual claims that adhering to a workplace policy would violate their religious consciences, the individual simply has to show that the religious belief is sincere. In other words, it cannot be tested in terms of consistency with a religious doctrine such as a biblical script; the belief simply has to be sincerely held by the individual.

Final Thoughts:

In a culture as diverse as Canada, employers must be aware that any religious belief held sincerely by an individual that is adversely impacted by a workplace policy or practice must be accommodated for up to the point of undue hardship. Religious beliefs, in other words, do not have to conform to religious conceptions that the majority hold; rather, they simply have to be a personal belief that is sincerely held only by the individual alone. Once an employer is aware of such a situation, accommodation efforts must commence just as they would on the basis of any other protected grounds under human rights law. If you are an employer in need of advice regarding accommodation duties, Whitten and Lublin has a team of experts to ensure your legal obligations to accommodate are met.

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