Lisa Gallivan & Alison Strachan
Lisa Gallivan & Alison Strachan, Stewart McKelvey

This year, April is a month with many religious and spiritual holy days:

  • Passover – An important Biblically-derived Jewish festival
  • Good or Holy Friday – Day commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death
  • Easter – Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ
  • Pascha – Orthodox feast of the Resurrection
  • Ridvan – Most holy Bahá’í festival
  • Baisakhi – New Year’s Day in Punjab – for Sikhs, Baisakhi commemorates the day when the 10th Sike guru, Guru Gobind Singh, founded the Khalsa Panth

Although religious and spiritual holy days occur year round, we’ll use our April blog spot to remind you of this issue of accommodation and leave you with a few suggestions as to how to adapt or improve your existing accommodation policy to ensure that the duty to accommodate is met.  The following three tips can make a good accommodation strategy work in your organization.

Get Ready

  • Be “open for discussion”. A hallmark of diversity management is celebration of culture – everyone’s culture. Your workplace can only benefit from good communication with employees on their personal cultural need.  Anything short of this sends the message “we don’t care” and negates respect for the individual.
  • Educate and train the workplace. Commitment to diversity must happen at all levels in the workplace.  Everyone must be aware of its importance, but being aware is only the beginning. Supervisors and managers must be trained how to deal respectfully with all accommodation requests.
  • Understand that the duty to accommodate is not unlimited. When accommodating a religious or spiritual belief might cause legitimate business issues, contact a lawyer to determine your next steps, if any.

Accommodation Strategies

There is no one size fits all when it comes to accommodation.  Human rights decision makers recognize that accommodation may not be possible given the size of an organization, the cost of the accommodation, safety considerations, or the impact on the morale of co-workers.  The following are five accommodation suggestions to consider when dealing with religious or spiritual beliefs at your workplace.  Always have an open mind and flexibility when it comes to finding solutions.

  1. Scheduling shift changes – look at your operation and determine whether this is possible – be flexible when considering whether a scheduled shift change is possible.  Are we looking at one day or three weeks?
  2. Compressed work week – how much time does your employee require to practice his or her faith?  Depending on the needs of your organization, working an extra hour a day – or even a half hour – for one month per year, may be all it takes to accumulate enough time to accommodate the employee’s spiritual request.
  3. Make up time (use of banked time?) – where employment standards permit and the employer follows all employment standards rules, an employee may be able to work extra time on specific projects and take paid time off at a later date.  If this is allowed in your jurisdiction, be sure that the employee agrees with this approach and that the bank is emptied routinely to avoid future liability.
  4. Paid time off – some employers provide paid time off in addition to what is available under employment standards legislation for personal use at the discretion of the employee.  Whether your workplace can offer this type of benefit is a decision that only you can make.
  5. Providing breaks and an on-site prayer room – sometimes it is not time away from the workplace that the employee needs.  As noted above, be open for discussion; ask the employee what could be done to accommodate while he or she is at work.  In some cases, this may mean half an hour of prayer breaks a day per week.  Is that something your organization might be able to provide?

We can’t emphasize that there is no cookie cutter approach to accommodation.  Employers need to be ready when the situation arises and be prepared to offer or discuss solutions that are available and appropriate.  Human Rights recognizes that accommodation may not be possible due to the size (small) of an organization, the cost of the accommodation, safety considerations, and the impact on the morale of co-workers.

Lisa Gallivan and Alison Strachan are the editors of, and regular contributors to, Stewart McKelvey’s HRLaw blog.  HRLaw regularly blogs current human resource issues and case law commentary.  In addition, Stewart McKelvey has a vibrant twitter presence @SM_EmployerLaw where Lisa and Alison tweet daily under the hashtag #HRpick on human resource issues.  Lisa is a skilled presenter, trainer and facilitator providing on-site training for employees and executives on all workplace matters including facilitation of executive meetings and retreats, policy development and strategic business planning.