HR professionals in Ontario are already accustomed to the many grounds protected under the province’s Human Rights Code but recent changes to one category may have more impact than originally thought.
The troublesome update came as the Ontario Human Rights Commission redefined the category of “creed” and said:
“Creed may also include non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.”
The Commission also offered the following characteristics that would be helpful in deciding if a belief system would be classed a creed under the Code:
• Is sincerely, freely and deeply held.
• Is integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfilment.
• Is a particular and comprehensive, overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices
• Addresses ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death, and the existence or non-existence of a Creator and/or a higher or different order of existence.
• Has some “nexus” or connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief.
Employment lawyer Laura Williams told ProfitGuide that the broadened interpretation could have “significant implications” for employers across Ontario and even the rest of Canada, if other regions were to follow suit.
“Vegan rights advocates, for example, have argued that this revised definition now requires employers to accommodate the needs of ethical vegans in the workplace,” revealed the Markham-based legal expert.
“That could mean that employers would be compelled to provide vegan options at on-site cafeterias, for example, or alter uniform requirements if a vegan employee refused to wear leather shoes as part of a uniform,” she added.
So how can HR professionals adapt to this expanded definition? According to Williams, it’s best to follow the same guidelines that employers have always done – or at least should have always done.
“The widely accepted rule is that employers have a duty to accommodate employees to the point of undue hardship,” she stresses.
“In other words, if accommodating a person’s creed could bankrupt a business, the courts don’t expect an employer to compromise their organization’s bottom-line success,” she reiterates.
“However, employers are required to consider all reasonable measures to accommodate the needs of their employees, even if it means incurring direct or indirect costs.”
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