COURTLAND — An Ontario organic farm that fired two teenaged employees for not working on a religious holiday was ordered by an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to pay the teens $26,000.
The Courtland farm, Country Herbs, has supplied fresh-cut herbs to supermarkets and companies since 1989, and fired the two teenagers in 2014 when one of them took a day off to celebrate the Mennonite holiday of Himmelfahrt.
Despite the employees, a brother and sister, giving notice several weeks in advance and on three occasions, the farm fired the 16-year-old girl when she didn’t show up to work, and then fired her 14-year-old brother, who wasn’t even scheduled to work that day.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Country Herbs must pay the youth more than $26,000: $17,500 in damages and $8,617 in lost wages, plus interest. Country Herbs was also ordered to draft an internal human rights policy, and take an online training course on human rights.
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s website, “When an employee requests time off to observe a holy day, the employer has an obligation to accommodate the employee.” The judge ruled Country Herbs did not do so.
The owners testified they told the sister that if she could not work the day of the holiday, she would have to work at midnight the next day or risk being fired. The teen’s mother testified she did not feel comfortable letting her teenaged daughter work during the night.
Country Herbs argued that to fill its orders, it needed all 23 employees to work on Mondays and Thursdays. The sister packed herbs into smaller packages, while her brother made boxes.
Country Herbs vice-president Lalli Singh said other employees requested the day off to observe the Mennonite holy day but to avoid compromising company production, they came to work at midnight.
Judges in precedent-setting court cases have ruled that employers must take reasonable steps to accommodate the employees’ religious obligations as long as it doesn’t cause “undue hardship” to the business.
Country Herbs argued that the delivery trucks were late leaving, and the company was not able to fill orders because the teen didn’t work. However, Country Herbs was not able to say how much money was lost.