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Religious Accommodations & The Job Interview

Employment Advice For Persons With Developmental Disabilities

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Artwork provided by an individual supported by Reena.

Dear Joanna,

I am an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath and all the Jewish holy days. I will be required to leave early on Fridays during certain months of the year, and take the days off for the holy days, 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 Job Seeker (SSJK)

Dear SSJK,

  1. Legal Issues. 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. With this in mind, many job seekers and employment specialists recommend requesting religious accommodations when he or she has been offered employment. At this point, they can notify the employer of any religious requirements that are relevant to the performance of his or her duties.
  2. Disclose 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 need for religious accommodations at the end of the interview, employers will be reluctant to risk losing you as a future employee! Besides, 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 job 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. Reiterate to the employer that are willing to do whatever it takes to do a great job.
  3. Keep it professional. As true with any topic at an interview, avoid talking about religion or politics. It can be damaging to your candidacy and hurt your chances of getting the job offer. Remember, focus on the job you are applying to unless it’s relevant to the position and qualifications. I would avoid specific details of your religious or any other personal matters as this could cross into risky territory. 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.
  4. Find out the hours, the flexibility with the 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 prior to the interview (and even the application if you can).. 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.

Thanks very much for the great question: Joanna

To submit your questions and comments to this column in confidence, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Supervisor at Reena.