Canadian HR Reporter

April 17, 2017

Canadian HR Reporter is the national journal of human resource management. It features the latest workplace news, HR best practices, employment law commentary and tools and tips for employers to get the most out of their workforce.

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CANADIAN HR REPORTER April 17, 2017 NEWS 3 Could headscarf ban by European Union reignite similar debate in Canada? Reverberations from court's decision could trickle down – especially in Quebec BY MARCEL VANDER WIER A LANDMARK ruling by the Eu- ropean Union's (EU) highest court in March has allowed companies to ban staff from wearing Islamic headscarves and other visible re- ligious symbols. e European Court of Justice found Belgian security services firm G4S — which had a rule bar- ring customer-facing employees from wearing visible religious and political symbols — may not have discriminated against a reception- ist dismissed in 2006 for wearing a headscarf, according to Reuters. e judiciary conclusion said the company was entitled to dis- miss receptionist Samira Achbita if, in pursuit of legitimate business interests, it fairly applied a broad dress code for all customer-facing staff to project an image of politi- cal and religious neutrality. Reverberations from this deci- sion could trickle down to Cana- da, specifically Quebec where it remains a hot topic, according to labour lawyers. "I'm sure it will," said Jonathan Franklin, attorney at Montreal's Franklin and Franklin. "(e EU ruling) certainly adds to the posi- tion that the government should have a right to get involved with people's individual expression." But research has shown that religious attire is not correlated with skills, ability, productivity or ambition, according to Rupa Banerjee, associate professor of human resources at Ryerson's School of Business Management in Toronto. "ese things are not related to one another," she said. "at bias, that perception needs to be tackled." Effect on Quebec is issue was debated as recently as November in Quebec, where the province's third attempt in the last seven years to legislate re- ligious neutrality was again sent back for further study. Bill 62, "An Act to foster adher- ence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for religious accom- modation requests in certain bod- ies," was tabled by the provincial Liberals to provide a framework for religious accommodation re- quests. Critics say it targets the Is- lamic burka and niqab by forcing public service employees to work with their face uncovered. A previous attempt by the party failed in 2012, as did a subsequent 2013 proposal by the Parti Québé- cois to ban public sector workers from wearing religious symbols on the job — that ended with the party suffering electoral defeat. "e issue that Quebec society is grappling with is, on the one hand, reasonable accommodation and respect for religious rights, and, on the other hand, there's a pressure that the government is placing on citizens here to con- form in dress," said Franklin. Current provincial law, accord- ing to the Quebec Charter of Hu- man Rights and Freedoms, insists employers make reasonable ac- commodations of staff, he said. "If dress is something that will not interfere with a person's work, then it is unreasonable and illegal for an employer to discriminate or tell them that they're not al- lowed to do that, at this point," said Franklin. "Right now, to say a person can't wear a head covering or a symbol around their neck ex- pressing their faith is 100 per cent discriminatory." e attempts to implement reli- gious neutrality run counter to the Quebec government's legislative trend to protect individual rights, he said. "We in Quebec have had a his- tory of freedom and now having the government interfere with how people dress is an interfer- ence — something that is contrary to the freedoms that we thought were written in stone in the Que- bec Charter of Rights." e moral authority that could stem from the EU ruling "may have more of an impact on Que- bec than it has other places," ac- cording to Montreal human rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis, president of the Quebec Bar Association's Hu- man Rights Committee. She called on the government to withdraw the bill — an attempt "to impose secularism as a nation- al religion" — following the mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque in January. "I think the European decision will have a bit of resonance around that conversation, because they'll be able to point at the European court and say, 'See?'" said Eliadis. TO > pg. 9

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