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Teens fired over religious holiday awarded $26,000

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TORONTO—A pair of Ontario teenagers soon will be collecting thousands of dollars after their employer fired them for observing a religious holiday.

The province’s Human Rights Tribunal ruled that vegetable grower Country Herbs discriminated against the young siblings on the basis of their creed.

The tribunal heard and accepted evidence that the teens, identified only by their initials, provided several weeks of notice that they planned to take the day off to celebrate a holiday that was important to their Christian Mennonite faith.

Only the 16-year-old sister, H.T., was scheduled to work that day, but both she and her 14-year-old brother, J.T., were fired immediately after she failed to report to work.

Country Herbs argued it dismissed H.T. for not complying with its attendance policy, but the tribunal ruled the company made no effort to work with her to accommodate her religious beliefs.

The tribunal also found her brother was let go solely for his association with her, and awarded the pair more than $26,000 in compensation and lost wages.

Zahra Binbrek, the lawyer representing the teens before the tribunal, said the ruling marked an important victory for an issue and age group that often get overlooked.

“There isn’t a large amount of cases around religious accommodations, so it’s nice to be able to contribute to that area of law,” she said.

“But of course, for them, this is a very important case . . . it takes quite a bit to assert your human rights in the workplace.

“They’re quite vulnerable at that age,” Binbrek noted.

Michael Pass, the lawyer representing Country Herbs, declined to comment on the ruling.

The tribunal heard that both H.T. and J.T. began working for the southwestern Ontario company in April, 2014.

The elder sister worked full-time packaging produce while the younger brother primarily made boxes to hold the completed packages.

Country Herbs said it had an attendance policy barring people from taking a day off on Thursdays since that was the day on which they had to ship products to grocery stores keen to stock shelves for the weekend shopping rush.

The Christian Mennonite holiday of Himmelfahrt happened to fall on Thursday, May 29, however, and H.T. informed the employer that she would be unable to work that day.

The tribunal said her brother had not been scheduled to put in a shift on that day.

Since the company previously had given her a day off to complete a CPR course, H.T. told the tribunal she assumed there would be no problem accommodating the new request.

A week later, however, the company informed her that she either would have to work her scheduled shift on the holiday or make up the hours by coming in at midnight on May 30.

H.T. felt the alternative was unreasonable since she could not arrange transportation at that hour and was uncomfortable working so far into the night.

Country Herbs previously had accommodated a request to end both siblings’ shifts no later than 10 p.m.

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