Fear of 666: Why an employer’s use of technology scared workers

Employers have a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship but determining what that is can be tricky business, especially when an employee’s religious beliefs are concerned. An Ontario employer attempted to implement a new security system involving biometrics. However, three employees complained, claiming the system’s use of electronic hand measurements was against their religion. The employees’ faith prohibits associating the identification of any part of the body with numerical records. The employer suggested a couple of alternatives which were rejected by the employees since they still involved measuring the hands. The employer first disciplined and then fired the three workers for their continued refusal. An arbitrator ruled the employer did not do enough to accommodate the employees’ religious beliefs.
By Jeffrey R. Smith
|Canadian Employment Law Today

An Ontario company breached its duty to accommodate three former employees in a case where new technology conflicted with the workers’ religious beliefs, an arbitrator has ruled.

Woodbridge, Ont.-based 407 ETR Concession Company Ltd. operates the 407 toll highway network near Toronto. It’s responsible for the administration and tracking of more than one million customers who use the highway. Security is a concern since the company’s premises contain sensitive areas where customer data and expensive equipment are stored. 407 ETR also faces hostility from customers due to its ability to deny new license plates to drivers owing payment.

The company planned to introduce a new security system for its employees, upgrading from a swipe card and password system to a biometric scanning system that involves the electronic measuring of the right hand to identify an individual. The company was concerned about misuse or misplacement of swipe cards and the new biometric system would solve this problem. In the new system, a hand measurement is taken and converted to an algorithm of a nine-digit number. When a hand is placed on a reader at an access point, it is measured and compared to the algorithm stored in the system. No images or other information about the hand is stored — only the nine-digit number representing the hand measurement. 407 ETR planned to introduce the new security system in stages, with the customer service representatives at the front counter coming first.