to address harassment, bullying and discrimination
with Stephen Hammond
Tip #45 — EDUCATE EMPLOYEES ABOUT ACCOMMODATION
When an employee's or customer's request for an accommodation is due to a human rights need, the employer must make the accommodation to the point of undue hardship. Often the accommodation can be made and very often it costs nothing or very little to do so. However, the real obstacle can come from other employees unhappy with one person being accommodated. Mere dissatisfaction from other employees will not scuttle an accommodation, but it can make it more difficult to bring about the change you're looking for.
Even though today's supervisors, managers, business owners and union shop stewards have some understanding of "reasonable accommodation," the whole notion of it bugs a lot of people. Why should one person, because of religion, disability, sex, family status, or any of the human rights protected grounds, be able to have a different set of work rules when the rest of us have to abide by those same rules? In fact, if we try to assert our so-called "rights" in the same way these few are being accommodated, we will be subject to discipline or termination of employment. It just doesn't seem fair. Those judges on the Supreme Court have no idea what it's like to run a workplace effectively and on budget!
But whether you like it or not, it's up to you to get your staff to understand the definition of accommodation, and to accept that it is a part of doing business. Not long ago a case of accommodation came before the Supreme Court of Canada. A school board in Quebec didn't want to allow a student to wear his kirpan (ceremonial dagger) even though there were no known examples of anyone getting hurt by a kirpan in Canada's history. The family had agreed to a compromise of giving their son a very small dagger and sewing it into his clothing, but the school board said no. The school board asked the court how they would explain the situation to students, parents and teachers that any other "weapon" was not allowed, yet the kirpan was allowed. Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Louise Charon said, "It is incumbent on the schools to discharge their obligation to instill in their students this value that is at the very foundation of our democracy." The "value" Justice Charon referred to is the value of accommodating religious differences. The same holds true for employers in any workplace.
1) Don't expect everyone is going to accept it - for many, this is a stellar example of "politically correct b.s." No matter how you explain it, some people won't take kindly to a separate set of rules. That's fine, but don't let someone thwart your workplace requirements under the law. Agreeing to disagree is one thing. Sabotaging a policy set by the Supreme Court of Canada will only increase your chances of litigation or bad publicity.
2) Differentiate between accommodation and slacking off - it's not a way of milking the system; it's a way of working within the system, within a person's legal rights. Accommodations are not designed to allow an employee to head to the local bar, ski hill or golf course. For most employees, it allows them to honour a higher set of principles or deal with a physical or mental difference. In many circumstances, an employer will go to great lengths to check the reality of the request. How involved is this employee with her religion, or does his disability truly put limitations on his ability to do his job? Keep in mind we accommodate employees all the time for items not nearly as serious as faith or injury. If an employee says "I need a Saturday off next month to attend my cousin's wedding in Red Deer," we usually take him at his word and make accommodations when we can.
3) Let employees know it's there for them - let other employees know that if they need an accommodation, it will also be available for them. Portray it as an insurance policy. We all pay insurance every year, hoping we never have to collect. Likewise, should we join a religion, get injured or acquire some other set of circumstances requiring special policies, we will be happy that the option is there; it offers peace of mind.