Service with a smile

Guide helps Alberta’s hospitality industry provide discrimination-free service

Every plane passenger has at one point said a little prayer for a safe flight. But for a Hasidic Jew on an Air Canada Jazz flight from Montreal to Newark, NJ, praying got him kicked off the plane.

According to media reports, the man was reading from a prayer book and rocking back and forth in his seat. A flight attendant told him his praying was disturbing the other passengers, but the man didn’t understand French or English.

The flight attendant loudly stated that the man wasn’t a Muslim, but he would have to get off the plane regardless. The plane returned to the terminal and the man was removed. He was allowed to take another flight 90 minutes later.

The airline denied the man was removed because of his religion. Instead, a spokesperson said he was told to leave because the crew couldn’t verify he understood the safety instructions and the time in the terminal gave the airline time to find a translator to explain the instructions to him.

Regardless of how the airline classified its actions, the flight attendant’s comment that the man’s praying was disturbing other passengers was poor customer service, verging on discrimination. Unfortunately, discrimination isn’t uncommon in the service industry. The Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission received 20 religion-based discrimination complaints last year, and 11 per cent of all the 778 human rights complaints were in the goods and service industries.

“It’s not our largest area of complaints,” said Cassie Palamar, manager for education service at the commission, of the service industry. “But it is a significant number.”

And that’s why the commission created a guide for employers in the hospitality industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, to ensure workers are providing discrimination-free service.

“What we try to do is target areas where questions are arising and where we know there is a need,” she said.

Alberta’s Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of several characteristics, including religion, race, gender, marital status, place of origin, physical or mental disability and sexual orientation. The guide lays out exactly how the legislation applies to employers in the service industry, including their rights and responsibilities under the legislation, examples of discriminatory practices and non-discriminatory alternatives, summaries of human rights cases in the industry and options for dispute resolution.

Employers and owners in the service industry want to do right by their customers, said Palamar.

“It’s a matter of finding out what that is,” she said. “The guide provides examples that are relevant to them.”

Preventing discrimination

How the service industry can stop discrimination against customers

Owners, managers and employers in the service industry have a responsibility to take steps to make their establishments discrimination-free. The following strategies from the Human Rights in the Hospitality Industry guide put out by the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, can help prevent discrimination complaints:

•Educate staff about human rights legislation and make them aware of their obligations.

•Promote corporate pride in providing accessible services to a diverse clientele.

•Institute a policy on accommodating customers’ special needs arising from protected characteristics such as physical or mental disabilities.

•Seek expert input about accessibility from community groups that represent persons with disabilities.

•Educate staff about the unique aspects of people with diverse backgrounds.

•Hire a diverse staff, particularly in positions that deal with the public.

•Provide all staff with conflict resolution training.

•Designate a manger or staff member to be the contact for issues related to human rights and advise staff to direct human rights issues to that person.

•Audit the establishment’s human rights performance by reviewing the facility’s physical accessibility and identifying policies that restrict service.

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