February 5, 2014 | 60 minutes

Accommodating Religious Diversity in the Workplace

Archived webinar featured on February 5, 2014

There is a legal mandate to accommodate religious practices in the workplace. However, accommodation should not only be a requirement. It is good human resource practice to create an open environment that recognizes religious practices of all employees. A company can improve employee satisfaction and productivity by helping employees feel like they can bring their whole self to work and not having to “hide” a part of themselves in the workplace.

In this webinar, learn from legal expert Dave McKechnie of McMillan about the duty to accommodate employees’ religious practices and hear from Irit Kelman, Mount Sinai, and Debbie Pawelczyk, RBC, on how to create and implement practical accommodation policies for your company. The session is moderated by diversity expert Rhonda Singer from Coaching for Action.

What Employers Need to Know

  • Each Canadian province and territory has human rights legislation that covers religion as a protected ground. When an employee’s religious belief or practice comes into conflict with a rule or standard of the company, for example dress code or hours of work, an employer must accommodate to the point of undue hardship.
  • Developing and implementing a religious accommodation policy makes a statement about your organization being welcoming to all employees. It creates a climate of equal opportunity and respect for diversity and inclusiveness. Staff feel they do not have to hide their identity and ultimately can contribute more to the company.The implementation of a religious accommodation policy can help in removing some barriers that prevent job seekers joining your organization. Therefore you are recruiting from a larger pool of talent.
  • The human resources department and operational management should be involved in creating a religious accommodation policy. Consult with an external human resources resource and/or legal counsel to review the policy.
  • Including a statement of principles and goals of what is to be achieved is an essential component in creating an effective religious accommodation policy. Clearly outline the procedure on how an employee can make an accommodation request and what information an employee needs to provide.

Carefully consider who will review the request to ensure an objective evaluation is conducted. Employers should ask for further information about the request if it is unclear. This is not necessarily challenging the request, but seeking clarification.

Including best practices in the policy as a guideline is always helpful. However, there is a “no one size fits all” approach when it comes to religious accommodation. What may work in one circumstance, may not in another. The policy should emphasize that it is a collaborative process between the employer and employee and that both parties should be flexible and creative in reaching a solution.

  • A strong communications strategy is key in raising awareness of the policy. You can achieve this by incorporating it into recruiting and training processes along with various public awareness campaigns in your organization for e.g. posting on an intranet or a poster campaign. Senior management championing diversity and inclusiveness would also be an effective way of implementing the policy.
  • Ensure that you are up to date with the most recent case law and update your policy accordingly. Reach out to legal counsel or external HR support if needed. Maintain training of the policy with staff.

Additional resources:


  • Dave McKechnie, Partner, Employment & Labour Relations, McMillan
  • Irit Kelman, Human Rights & Health Equity Specialist,Mount SinaiHospital
  • Debbie Pawelczyk, Sr. Advisor – Workplace Accommodation, Employee Relations, RBC
  • Moderator: Rhonda Singer, Senior Associate, Coaching for Action

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