How does the Human Rights Code apply to the workplace?

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The Code states that every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination or harassment because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability.


The right to “equal treatment with respect to employment” covers every aspect of the workplace environment and employment relationship, including job applications, recruitment, training, transfers, promotions, apprenticeship terms, dismissal and layoffs. It also covers rate of pay, overtime, hours of work, holidays, benefits, shift work, discipline and performance evaluations.


Organizations and institutions have a responsibility to be aware of whether their practices, policies and programs have a negative impact or result in systemic discrimination against people or groups protected by the Code. It is not acceptable from a human rights perspective to choose to remain unaware of the potential existence of discrimination or harassment, to ignore or to fail to act to address human rights matters, whether or not a complaint has been made. Human rights decisions are full of findings of liability and assessments of damages that are based on, or aggravated by, an organization’s failure to appropriately address discrimination.


Organizations and institutions operating in Ontario must have measures in place to prevent and respond to breaches of the Code. They have a duty to take steps to foster environments that respect human rights. This takes commitment and work but is part of the cost of doing business in a province that is committed to the goal of equality, as a matter of public policy expressed in the Code.


A solid organizational anti-discrimination program will have the following components:


1.    a comprehensive anti-discrimination statement and policy
2.    proactive, ongoing monitoring
3.    implementation strategies, and
4.    evaluation.


The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that systems must be designed to include all persons. The ethno-racial diversity that exists in Ontario should be reflected in the structure of employment and accreditation programs and practices. An organization must make sure its practices create inclusiveness, instead of merely making exceptions to allow individuals to fit into an existing system. Barriers should be prevented at the design stage, including when developing job descriptions and/or job or accreditation requirements. In established systems, organizations should be aware of the possibility of systemic barriers and actively seek to identify and remove them.


Example: A major banking institution wants to make sure that biases in favour of Canadian experience do not infiltrate the job competition process. As a precautionary measure, the bank does not include a question about “country of origin” on its job application form.


Example: An accounting firm stipulates that an applicant must be a designated accountant, rather than saying that the applicant must be a member of the CA, CMA, or CGA (local designations that would exclude most foreign-trained accountants).


To make sure they are complying with their duties under the Code, employers and regulatory bodies should be familiar with and follow the best practices chart set out earlier in this policy. These best practices will help to make sure that newcomers do not experience discriminatory barriers in their job searches or in the accreditation process, and that they can access employment that best uses their skills and qualifications.