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Religious accommodation and the job interview

Dear Joanna,
I am an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath and all the holy days. I will be required to leave early on Fridays during certain months of the year, and take certain days off, as well as leave early on the eve of the holiday. I am confused as to whether or not to disclose this in the job interview? At which point of the job search process do you recommend that I discuss my religious accommodations?
Signed: Shomer Shabbat (SSJK) – Job Seeker 

Dear SSJK,
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) in the hiring process, a job applicant’s religion cannot be considered as a selection criterion for employment. Employers cannot legally ask you direct questions about religion, your customs, or your place of worship on a job application or during the interview process.  

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 during the interview process. Many job seekers and employment specialists recommend requesting religious accommodations when you are offered employment. At this point, any religious requirements that are relevant to the performance of your duties can be reviewed.

Disclosing in the job interview  
Some job coaches argue that you should mention your accommodations once you get the job offer. Others suggest that if you decide to discuss your religious accommodations at the interview, then be extra-prepared to make an exceptional impression during the job interview so that when you do disclose your needs, employers will be reluctant to risk losing you as a future employee! Keep in mind, you will not be able to work at this company if you cannot get this time off so it is critical to come clean in the interview. Show the employer that you have given lots of thought to this issue. Mention that you need certain accommodations with the work schedule and negotiate alternative ways to make up the time. For example, instead of asking for “days off”, consider offering to work later, in the evenings, the weekends and/or on Christian holy days. 

Build confidence in your abilities 
Reiterate to the employer that you are willing to do whatever it takes to do a great job.

Keep it professional. Avoid talking about religion or politics as it can be damaging to your candidacy. Remember, focus on the job and responsibilities that are relevant to the position and qualifications. Never ask the interviewer back about his or her beliefs, faith, or religion. If they choose to share this information voluntarily, that’s their decision.

Find out the hours and the flexibility
Discuss the hours, shifts and workplace culture. Are you able to work from home sometimes? Will there be travel? Try to find out as much as you can about the company from other employees or stakeholders prior to the interview. Use social media, information interviews, and other networking activities. This information can help you prepare for the interview as well as enable you to see if you would be a good fit. Also, target your job search by identifying lists of companies and managers where you will be free to practice your religious observances.

Thank you for the great question!  

Joanna Samuels, MEd, is an adult educator with an expertise in career/job coaching and community/business partnership building.

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