Can Human Rights Hurt Small Business?

Shawnee Love   •  
June 10, 2015

Today, I am taking a big risk in answering the question:

Can Human Rights Hurt Small Business?

It is risky, because my answer is “yes”, and I know that is not the politically correct thing to say. If you stopped reading right now, you might assume that I am racist, sexist, ageist, etc.  I am not.  A diverse workforce (diverse by gender, age, religion, background, nationality, language, culture, etc.) is a major strength for a company, and I encourage employers to hire a variety of people.  Leveraging different viewpoints, experiences and styles leads to better decision making and innovation amongst other valuable contributions.

However, in the last 7 years I have worked with 120+ small and medium clients, and I see them struggling with the right thing to do according to the law and the right thing to do for their business and all of its employees.  This dilemma is very clear when it comes to hours of work.  Smaller businesses typically run lean, and as such, don’t have many choices when it comes to scheduling people to work specific shifts or requesting an employee work overtime. If they hire an employee to work evenings and weekends and are told by their new hire that she needs evenings and weekends off to care for her kids (or for religious reasons), they are up the proverbial creek.

Our legal precedents say it is fair to ask another employee to switch shifts to accommodate a coworker’s family status or religion, even if the coworker is new, and even if there is a risk you may lose the long tenured employee in the process.

This news causes these small employers to question the “duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship” and ask “Why it is fair to move another employee into that Tuesday-Saturday shift just because she doesn’t have a protected ground upon which to refuse?”

I feel their pain.  My hope is that the greater good for an entire organization (i.e., all employees rather than one individual) gains importance to the point where businesses would have the ability to refuse to accommodate because the candidate shouldn’t have applied if she couldn’t work the shift.

I am curious what you think? Do you want the PC pendulum to move into middle ground? Or are our human rights laws doing exactly what they are supposed to?