I am an observant Jew who wears his kippah all the time, including at the interview meeting. Also, I keep Shabbat and all of the Jewish holy days. I will be required to leave early on Fridays during the late fall and winter months, not to mention the weekdays that I will have to leave work early and even miss a few working days. I was recently interviewed by a leading company for a driver position, and did not get the job offer because many of the required shifts fell over Shabbat and holy days. I do however, feel that the interviewers discriminated against me because of my kippah. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job because they said I was unable to work the mandatory shifts.
I’m curious to know at which point of the job search process do you recommend that I discuss my religious accommodations?
Signed: Kippah Man
Dear Kippah Man,
Religious accommodations in the workplace is a hot topic on the Internet. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)’s policy on accommodation of religious observances, a “job applicant’s religion cannot be used as a selection criterion for employment.”
Therefore, the OHRC states, “invitations to apply for employment and job application forms cannot contain:
1. questions about availability for work that are asked in a manner that reveals the applicant’s creed
2. questions designed to reveal that religious requirements may conflict with the prospective employer’s work schedules or workplace routines
3. inquiries as to religious affiliation, places of worship that are attended, or customs observed.”
The OHRC also discusses flexible scheduling for employees, once hired.The purpose of this measure is to allow a flexible work schedule for employees, or to allow for substitution or rescheduling of days when an employee’s religious beliefs do not permit him or her to work certain hours. For example, Seventh Day Adventists and members of the Jewish faith observe a Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Observant members of these religions cannot work at these times.
Blogger Matt Youngquist on Career Horizons points out the complexity of religion, and the impact it can have on career choices and finding new work. Drawing on the following strategies suggested by Youngquist, as well as the perspective of our JVS Employment Counsellor (and Editor of this blog), Karin Lewis, I suggest you consider this:
1. Research the company.
Learn as much as you can about the business and job before applying. Read the website, their LinkedIn page and other social media to find out the hours, the flexibility and workplace culture, and anything you can about the company, prior to the application process and interview. If you learn that one of the “bona fide” job requirements is that a flexible shift work schedule is “considered reasonably necessary to the normal operation of a particular business”, and you will therefore, be expected to work on Shabbat and holy days, then you might wish to reconsider this job application. Try to find out if there is any flexibility with the shifts by identifying current employers for an information interview.
2. Consider whether you want to disclose in the job interview.
I have to admit that I have heard the occasional success story from clients who chose, after making an excellent impression during a job interview, to disclose their need for religious accommodations. In one case, the employer accommodated the Shabbat and Holy days schedule and hired the person for an IT position. In your case, if you are already in the interview room, I would present the hours you ARE available, rather than when you cannot work. Needless to say, you will not be able to work at this company if you cannot get this time off.
To establish trust with employers, it’s critical to come clean in the job interview about your needed accommodations with the work schedule, and to negotiate alternative ways to make up the time. If you are going to do so, Karin Lewis stresses that candidates must be crystal clear about the accommodations required as well as what you are willing to offer in place of this lost time. Lewis emphasizes the need to reiterate to the employer that you are willing to whatever it takes to do a great job!
3. Know your legal rights.
Employers cannot legally ask you direct questions about religion on a job application or during the interview process. There are some minor exceptions to this rule, but you will not be asked about your religion or accommodations regarding your faith. Youngquist adds that employers have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy: interviewers don’t ask about this subject, and candidates are not obligated to discuss their religion or accommodations. That’s one way to handle things.
4. Avoid risky territory.
Youngquist posits that being too candid about your religion (or proselytizing) can be damaging to your candidacy and hurt your chances of getting the job offer. If you are being interviewed with an organization and/or interviewer from a similar background, I still wouldn’t discuss the specific details of your religious philosophy or ritual practices, or any other personal matters, as this could cross into risky territory. Youngquist warns to avoid raising the faith issue pro-actively; only bring up the subject if it’s relevant to the job, or to a legal question where your beliefs “would be an integral part of your answer that you don’t want to leave out”. Don’t ask the interviewer about their particular beliefs, faith, or religion; if they choose to share this information voluntarily, that’s their decision, but you shouldn’t try to draw it out of them.
5. Job Search Basics.
Engage in a very targeted job search, by identifying lists of companies and hiring managers where you will be free to practice your religious observances. You can find this information out through speaking with employees of companies on the phone or through social media, building your professional network, attending employer events and job fairs, and being thorough in your analysis of the job descriptions and postings to which you are applying.