When Robert Weller and Michael Roosma, two employees of Ford Motor Co. of Canada (Oakville Assembly Plant), became members of the Worldwide Church of God in 1984, they were faced with a conflict between occupational and religious requirements. On the one hand, the collective agreement in effect between Ford and CAW, Local 707 required them to work approximately 21 Friday night shifts per year. On the other hand, the tenets of their creed required them to observe the Sabbath, and therefore not to work from sunset Friday to sunset Sunday. The consequences for not meeting the two contradictory standards were adverse. Failure to adhere to the occupational standard would result in their eventual dismissal from the company, whereas failure to adhere to the religious standard would result in their immediate expulsion from the church. Neither the employer nor the union would relieve them of their duty to work, despite their consistent requests for accommodation. In 1988, after three years of progressive discipline, Weller and Roosma were dismissed from work. Seven years later, an Ontario Board of Inquiry dismissed their complaint of religious discrimination. (Roosma v Ford Motor Co. of Canada No. 4 (1985), 24 C.H.R.R. D/89)
- Did Roosma and Weller sincerely hold the religious belief that they could not work on Friday night shifts ?
- Is this a prima facie case of constructive employment discrimination on a religious ground?
- Did Ford and CAW accommodate Roosma and Weller to the point of undue hardship?
Reasoning of the Board of Inquiry
- According to the chairman of the Board, Roosma and Weller were "genuine believers and fine workers".
- By operating in accordance with a collective agreement which requires every employee to work 21 Friday night shifts a year, both Ford and CAW discriminates adversely against workers who can not work Friday night shifts due to conflicting religious requirements. By failing to accommodate two such workers, and by eventually dismissing them for repeated unauthorized leave, both the employer and the union were guilty of constructive employment discrimination.
- Cost, safety, employee morale and disruption of the collective agreement made it impossible to accommodate the complainants. In the 1980's, Ford was in "both a cost and quality crisis". The Oakville Assembly Plant, whose viability was being questioned in newspapers, was under scrutiny by its headquarters in Detroit. In addition to the pressures of having to increase quality while decreasing cost, the plant had very little money allotted for dealing with its high absentee rate on Friday nights (8-10%). The 2-person "absentee allowance" in the tank installation zone was not meant to replace workers on a permanent basis. "Churning" workers from other zones to replace the complainants was unfeasible in terms of quality, incremental cost, and employee morale. Such employees were not always trained to install tanks. While training them would slow down production, not training them could result in serious accidents or technical mistakes which could easily bring the assembly line to a halt, resulting in significant financial loss. A third solution, replacing Roosma and Weller with double backs, was both dangerous and expensive. Employers who work double shifts must be paid overtime wages. They are often overtired, and therefore prone to making mistakes and having accidents. The final possibility of accommodation, assigning the complainants to another position in the plant, would mean that two employees with seniority would have to be bumped from highly sought-after positions. According to the respondent, this type of accommodation would disrupt the collective agreement in an unacceptable way. After weighing the evidence, the Board of Inquiry found that Ford and CAW 707 had discharged their duty to accommodate Roosma and Weller to the point of undue hardship.
Further information on Religious Leave: Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances, s.7.4 and s.8.3
Comment: In 2002, the OHRC appealed this decision, but the appeal was dismissed by the Superior Court of Justice who supported fully the decision of the Board of Inquiry.