Your request to wear the turban (and follow other religious practices) “can be reasonably accommodated” by the employer, says NZ Human Rights Commission.
Also taking heed of vegetarian staff, the commission says that employers “should try to provide alternative food and drink, such as vegetarian and/or vegan options, so that employees can follow their religious or ethical norms.”
These guidelines are part of a booklet titled “Religious Diversity in the New Zealand Workplace: Questions & Concerns” prepared by the commission and Professor Paul Morris of the Religious Studies Programme at Victoria University of Wellington.
New Zealand legislation makes it unlawful to discriminate on religious grounds and gives people the right to express themselves religiously.
“New Zealand now has significant communities of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews playing an ever more significant role in our economy.
“Each group has its own traditions, sacred calendars, religiously sanctioned customs and practices, including food, dress and behavioural codes. People do not leave their religious identities, values and sensibilities at the door when they arrive each day at work.
“Coupled to this religious diversity is our increasingly ‘24/7 culture’. Now that retail and some service industries operate seven days a week, issues are created for a number of religious groups, for example, with the weekly days of rest and times of communal prayers.
“There have been a steady stream of enquiries and complaints to the Human Rights Commission and other bodies.”
Here are answers to some common religious questions raised by migrants, and responses from the guide.
Q: I would like to pray at work
A: The reasonable accommodation of prayer times will be dependent upon the nature of the business and in some cases it may not be possible to accommodate prayer times. For Muslims, for example, normally there is a requirement for two, sometimes three daily sessions, which take less than ten minutes each. Generally employees can choose to pray during their rest and meal break times. Some employees wish to attend public prayers on Fridays or leave early on Fridays before the commencement of their Sabbath.
An employer can reasonably expect employees to ensure that adequate notice is given and any time taken off is made up.
Employers have been requested by employees to make rooms or spaces available for daily prayers. There are excellent precedents in New Zealand for such provision.
An employee should be able to expect that the practicable provision of facilities to allow such activities to take place will be considered in good faith.
Q: i am a seventh Day adventist. in respect of my sabbath day, can i insist on not working on saturdays?
A: it would depend on the nature of the business but this needs to be raised at the time of hiring and would need to be specifically agreed in your employment agreement.
Q: I am a sikh. Can i wear my turban at work?
A: you can reasonably expect that the request to wear the turban will be considered in good faith. this will require the agreement of your employer. optimally, clothing and personal styles which are worn in accordance with normal, communal religious practice can be reasonably accommodated.
Q: Can my employer refuse to allow me to wear a headscarf as part of a company uniform?
A: You can reasonably expect that the request to wear the headscarf with the company uniform will be considered in good faith. Ideally this will be discussed and an agreement reached at the time when the terms of employment are negotiated. Where health and safety requirements specify protective clothing or equipment be used and this creates a difficulty, as can other circumstances, such as the wearing of certain types of jewellery, the issue should be considered with the reasonable expectation of finding a practical and acceptable resolution. Employment agreements often include dress codes or workplace policies.
Q: Can I put up an anti-abortion poster on my office or workspace wall?
A: While some employers have specific policies in place about workspace decor many do not. if in doubt discuss this with your employer before displaying potentially unwelcome and controversial material.
Q: I have a necklace with a cross. Can i wear this at work?
A: If there are guidelines set by your employer covering this, then these should be followed. otherwise you should be able to wear the necklace dependent upon safety concerns and prominence.
Where there are no specific policies in place the discreet wearing of religious insignia, or the discreet decoration of work spaces with religious items or artefacts should be considered acceptable as long as it does not interfere with work practices or the safety of fellow workers.
Q: I am a Buddhist and do not eat meat on religious grounds. Can i expect vegetarian food in the staff canteen?
A: in staff canteens and catering facilities employers should try to provide alternative food and drink, such as vegetarian and/or vegan options, so that employees can follow their religious or ethical norms. Many New Zealand workplaces include vegetarian options for employees.
Q: There are often social functions at my work, for example, on Friday afternoons people get together during work time and alcoholic drinks are served. Can I refuse to attend?
A: While it is difficult to refuse to attend a function during normal working hours, you could suggest to your employer that non-alcoholic beverages are available at work functions. Alcohol is less evident in some societies than in New Zealand and in others it is absent altogether. When and where it is practicable employers should try to ensure that alternatives to alcohol are available. Many employers already make this provision.
Q: My religious ethics do not condone particular lifestyle publications, and I consider the use of certain ‘emergency contraceptives’ to be immoral. as a driver can I refuse to deliver these? Q: My religion forbids the eating or handling of products derived from the pig, such as pork or bacon. Can I refuse to do so at work?
A: Ideally these issues should have been communicated at the time of hiring. however, if such issues only became clear at a later date you should discuss them with your employer.
Q: One of my co-workers keeps giving me religious tracts and pamphlets, asking me about my religious life and inviting me to attend her religious group. Is this acceptable?
A: If you find this offensive you should raise this with your co-worker or employer.
Q: In the attempt to reduce stress levels there is a yoga session at my place of employment. Can I refuse to attend as i understand this to be a religious activity?
A: such activities should not be compulsory. however, if you feel pressure to attend then you should raise this with your employer.
Q: The company where i work has a prayer session before work each morning. Can I refuse to take part?
A: Yes, such prayer cannot be compulsory and you can refuse to participate without any negative consequences.
Q: My work starts sessions with a karakia, can i object to this on religious grounds?
A: While recognising that it is sometimes not easy to withdraw from group activities at work, such karakia should not be compulsory and you should discuss this with your employer. However, you should be aware that karakia can be secular or religious.
Download the PDF copy of the guide.