with Stephen Hammond
Tip #23 — ACCOMMODATE FOR CHANGING RELIGIONS
One of the major accommodation grounds within human rights is religion. While most Canadians still identify as Christian, either Roman Catholic or Protestant, according to census data for decades, Christianity has declined as an overall percentage, with the largest increase involving Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. And while Muslims are by far, the fastest growing religious group in Canada, their numbers still dwarf those who identify as Christian.
Yet, with ever more immigrants arriving from Asia, South Asian and the Middle East in particular, non-Christian religions will continue to grow. Since their members are younger than those in the traditional Catholic and Protestant population, their presence will influence some of the policies in the workplace, especially in some geographical pockets where they take up residence.
And when we think about making religious accommodations, we often don't think about those with no religious affiliation.
Yet, according to the last major census in 2011, 25% of Canadians said they had "no religious affiliation." British Columbia is the province with the most people saying this (44%) and Alberta is next with almost one-third of its population claiming no religious affiliation. So we now have pressures for accommodating people with non-Christian religions, and also pressures from employees who say they don't want any reference to religion at work. It involves balancing a certain amount of sensitivities.
With these observations, one may assume this has and will continue to lead to clashes at work. It rarely does. Since a workplace isn’t a place of worship (unless it is), most often employees, employers and co-workers are able to figure out how to accommodate the occasional request.
1) Be prepared for religious holidays - as more employees become comfortable with asserting their rights at work, you'll want to anticipate some requests. If an employee gives you lots of notice for taking a religious day off, you can prepare for it. Any court or tribunal will ask "what will you do if a person legitimately calls in sick?" because they know you'll have a plan of action in place. If you can plan for absences due to illness on no notice, then you can certainly make plans when employees give you plenty of notice. The sooner you know, the easier it will be to accommodate religious days off.
2) Avoid making employees educators - many people want to know more about the religions of fellow employees. If employees want to tell others, that's fine, but if they don't feel like holding a class (so to speak) then we need to respect that. Lots of times fellow employees ask questions, but they don't want to hear the answers - they just want to judge. People will be as open as they want to be.
3) Get ready for no-religions - as people will start asserting their rights to leave religion out of the workplace. Religion isn't a big issue in most Canadian workplaces, however, when something comes up, be considerate and look at all the issues. DON'T BE THE NEXT HIGH-PROFILE CASE!
This is TIP #23 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors.
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