The duty to accommodate: Hype and reality

Religious accommodation a hot issue but like disabilities, undue hardship is the limit
By Thierry Carrière
|Canadian Employment Law Today

Recent events have provided numerous questions, concerns and anecdotes concerning the duty to accommodate religious differences in Quebec. With Jewish men taking offense to exercising women in the windows of a YMCA, controversy over Muslim women’s right to vote without showing their faces and the code of conduct enacted by the small town of Hérouxville, Que., outlining “proper” Western behaviour, media hype has created turmoil and led to a misunderstanding of the concept of “reasonable accommodation.”

Although it is clear, that in the vast majority of cases, employers deal with the concepts of the duty to accommodate and undue hardship in the context of illnesses, disabilities and handicaps, these recent events mainly concern religious practices. Most of the incidents do not concern employer-employee situations but some of the principles established by the courts in other areas can be applied to the context of the employment relationship.

The question of the employer’s duty to accommodate religious practices in the workplace is definitely not new in Canada. In