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Workplace religious accommodation: A two-part obligation under human rights

Under the Human Rights Code (Ontario), the duty to accommodate in the workplace is a two-part obligation. Employers who do not make at least a reasonable effort to comply with this obligation can find themselves having to pay a financial price. This was the reality in Qureshi v. G4S Security Services, 2009.

Facts of the case

The applicant, Muhammad Quersih, a young man of Muslim Faith, was being considered for a security guard position. The Respondent, G4S Security Services (Canada) Ltd. et al., was a large security services organization with 5,500 employees. Having successfully passed the interview, Mr. Quesrish was scheduled for two days of mandatory training. On the second day of training, Mr. Querish approached the trainer and explained that he would need about one hour off that afternoon in order to go to the mosque to pray. Mr. Querish was directed to Human Resources. Immediately after Mr. Quersih explained to the Human Resources person that his religious beliefs required that he have time off on all Friday afternoons to pray, Mr. Querish was told that the company could not go forward with his employment application.

Mr. Querish filed a human rights claim based on the prohibited ground in employment on the basis of creed contrary to sections 5(1) and 9 of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Decision

Under Section 5(1) of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the duty to accommodate in the workplace has a two-part obligation, procedural and substantive. Under the procedural obligation, the employer must take adequate steps to explore and assess accommodation options with the employee. Under the substantive obligation, having interviewed the employee, accommodation should be granted where it does not pose an undue hardship to the employer.

In other words, once accommodation is requested by the employee, not only is the employer responsible for investigating the accommodation, the burden then shifts to the employer to demonstrate why the employee’s needs cannot be accommodated.

During the hearing, the Respondent put forth a number of undue hardship arguments. Undue hardship, in accordance with the Code, falls into three categories: cost, outside sources of funding or health and safety requirements.

In Qureshi v G4S Security Services the Tribunal was satisfied that the evidence showed Mr. Quesrish’s request was immediately rebuffed without considering whether his request could be accommodated, finding the Respondent “failed utterly” to meet the first component of the duty to accommodate. Nonetheless, the Tribunal reviewed the Respondent’s undue hardship arguments in detail.

The Tribunal found the following:

  1. The Respondent argued that accommodation could not be made due to the company’s “collective agreement”. The Tribunal reiterated that both parties to a collective agreement have an obligation to provide accommodation short of undue hardship.[1]
  2. In regard to “cost” of the accommodation the Tribunal doubted that providing accommodation to Mr. Quersih would significantly affect the company’s financial position.
  3. The Respondent also argued that scheduling the time off for prayer would “adversely affect its scheduling practices.” Yet, the Respondent failed to provide sufficient evidence to support how this might lead to the claim of undue hardship.
  4. The Respondent pointed out that “condominium clients do not like to see different employees coming to work at their premises.” However, the Tribunal held, as often it has,  that “customer preference” is not an appropriate factor in assessing undue hardship.

The Tribunal reiterated that a party will not meet its onus of establishing undue hardship if it refuses to provide concrete evidence in support of its undue hardship argument. As such, the Tribunal found that this onus had not been met by the Respondent.

The Tribunal found that the Respondent failed to accommodate Mr. Quersih’s creed as required by the Code. Mr. Quersih was awarded $2,520 for lost wages and an additional $5,000 for loss arising out of the infringement of the Code, including compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect.

Qureshi v. G4S Security Services further demonstrates the necessity of a thorough and reasonable attempt at accommodation under the Human Rights Code and the financial cost to the employer if these obligations are not met.


[1] Central Okanagan School District No. 23 v. Renaud [1992] 2 S.C.R. 970.

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Kevin Sambrano

Kevin Sambrano, B.A.A. is a paralegal who is passionate about human rights. Kevin worked for a number of years as a tenant advocate organizing over 100 tenant associations and taking part in over 80 positive outcome negotiations. He completed his internship at a law firm, focusing in human rights and employment law. Recently, Kevin opened the doors of Sambrano Legal Services offering representation in human rights and employment law in Toronto and the GTA.Read more
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