Workplace Discrimination Policies in Canada

Discrimination in the Workplace

Richard Yang

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Despite the establishment of various human rights laws, regulations and acts on the issues of equality in Canada, some individuals still experience some form of discrimination. This is evident especially in the area of job allocations and employment. Such people include women, especially pregnant women, persons with disabilities and even radicalized people like the aboriginals, Indians and people of colour. This paper will provide a critical analysis of this issue. A brief description of the situation will be provided. This will be followed by the reasons for the status quo and later, recommendations to improve the situation will be provided.


Canadian workers are protected against discrimination by a number of laws. These include theCanada Labour Codeor the Canadian Labour and Employment Equity Act. In addition to this, each province in Canada has established their own individual human rights regulations and labour legislation law to help regulate human treatment and behaviour in the workplace. The criminal code also has clauses for protection against discrimination and against any form of sexual harassment and physical assault. However, despite all these developments, discriminationis still a great issue in the Canadian workplace (Canada, 2013). Various scholars have examined this area but the literature available is still not sufficient. This research paper will provide much needed information by examining the issue of discrimination at the work place and provide the possible reasons why this occurs. Lastly, this paper will provide recommendations for improvement of the situation.

There are different forms of discrimination at the work-place. These include, race discrimination (Colour, Ethnic Origin, Creed, Place of Origin or Ancestry), wage discrimination, gender discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual discrimination (e.g. Pregnancy), age discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, disability discrimination, religious discrimination, family status, record of offences and based on political affiliation. The Canadian Human Rights Act provides protection against all the above-mentioned forms of discrimination (Canada, 2013).

The definition of labour force discrimination can be delicate. It can be defined as the different treatment of two equally qualified individuals on account of one or more of the various grounds of discrimination. The different methods against which a person may be discriminated against, according to theCanadian Human Rights Act, are referred to asdiscriminatory practices. Federal employers are not allowed by law to discriminate against any of their employees. They are actually obligated to accommodate an employee’s individual circumstances that relate to protected grounds of discrimination. This is referred to as the duty to accommodate. If one works for or receives services from an organization or firm that is regulated by the federal government and has experienced discrimination under any of the grounds, one should to complain (Canada, 2013).

According to Goldring & Landolt (2013), discrimination occurs in a number of areas and in different ways in the workplace, such as:

In recruiting and selecting staff
In giving terms, conditions and mostly benefits offered as part of employment
Giving training in the workplace
In considering and selecting people for transfer, dismissal, promotion or even retrenchment
Selecting people for disciplinary action
Denying an employee goods, services, accommodation or access to some facilities
Providing them with goods, services, accommodation or facilities in a way that treats them differently or adversely.
Denying someone perfectly qualified employment or unfairly allocating them a ghetto status in the workplace.
Putting up policies or practices that demean some people.
Paying differently when employees they are doing same works of the same value.
Retaliating against an employee who has filed a complaint against them to the Commission of human rights.
Openly harassingsomeone at the workplace
A bank putting up lending and borrowing rules that obviously make it unreasonably difficult for new immigrants to get loans. This is discrimination based on race and national or ethnic origin.
A person being referred to secondary screening at an airport because of their skin color. This is a discrimination case based on the color of the skin.
An employer assigns shifts to employees without consideration for religious observance.
An employer’s stating physical fitness requirements that clearly are based on the capabilities of a 25 year old instead of the actual requirements of a job. This is a case of discrimination based on age.
A female employee who performs well in the job gets pregnant. The employer soon looks for performance issues order to dismiss her.
A work policy provides benefits to some selective married couples, but not to others. This may be a case of discrimination based on sexual orientationand/ormarital status.
On the ground offamily status; a woman after giving birth cannot be able to do night shifts. The employer fails to allow her flexibility to work on dayshifts.
An employer setting up policies that require all the employees to have a driver’s license. People with a disability are directly discriminated against this way. This can be a case of discrimination based on disability grounds.
A person can also be denied a job due to a previous conviction which was pardoned or suspended.

Reasons for Employee Discrimination

Various reasons contribute to the problem of discrimination at the work-place in Canada. Firstly, there is a difficulty of inadequately trained employees. Tribe, Curlis, Etheridge, Quarry, Ash & Training Point.Net (2009) argue that even in the human resources departments that could be described as the most effective, inter-employee discrimination cannot be adequately contained. They argue that the best way to adequately contain this menace is to ensure that the employees are adequately educated about the laws against discrimination and about any internal rules to guard against discrimination that a certain company has adopted.

Secondly, failure on the part of the employers to guard against the paper has also contributed to this menace. According to Crosby, Stockdale & Ropp (2007) many employers have been identified to treat their respective evaluation systems as a formality. Most of them have been shown to hand out satisfactory ratings to the employees that show up to work in a timely manner and during firing, records of misconduct are also not kept. These researchers recommend the need for the documentation of the failings of the borderline workers. The records are to ensure that their termination of employment is supported by the paper trail.

Thirdly, according to Tribe, Curlis, Etheridge, Quarry, Ash & Training Point.Net (2009), many people are very ignorant of the law. They argue that even if someone has gone for the best training and awareness, their argument brings out the notion that, even those that have gone for the best training and awareness programs require to have knowledge about the law. They describe most rules about discrimination in the work-place as self-evident although they accept that there are others that are a surprise. For instance, a program on testing that has a disproportionate effect on a class that is protected may be termed discriminatory unless it boosts the performance of a job.

Addition to this, Crosby, Stockdale & Ropp (2007) state that when employees are not adequately screened prior to getting hired, the resultant workforce may be made up of employees that do not have the willingness to show respect to their colleagues. This is very true of the Canadian work-force because VisionPoint Productions (2002) have shown that nearly 90% of all the employers in Canada do not conduct background checks on their employees prior to employment. They suggest that a proper check be conducted about the employee’s criminal past and with the previous employers to as a measure to guard against discrimination in the work-place.

Furthermore, some individuals have been reported to receive discrimination complaints with skepticism. However, with the current laws and regulations, this kind of behavior ought to end to avoid being sued. Proper investigations should be conducted (VisionPoint Productions, 2002).

People occasionally have misplaced loyalty. It is an accepted statement that people have to change. As they do, the standards of acceptable conduct also change. Exemplary employees change and turn to liabilities in their respective work-stations. Liability here is because of their inability to adapt to the ever-changing standards of the work-place. By so doing, they expose their companies to possible law suits (Crosby, Stockdale & Ropp, 2007).

Occasionally employees may have a lot of unsupervised leisure time. The leisure allows them to occupy themselves with things that are not constructive; one of those things may be discriminatory. According to Crosby, Stockdale & Ropp (2007) most of the employees that have lots of unsupervised leisure times end up behaving in a discriminatory way.

Various other things may also lead to discrimination in the work-place. These include; excessive personal expression, failure for some employees to recognize when they are involved in conflicts and the mixing of ethnicities, genders and generations in the work-place. Although, mixing up may look advantageous, in the long run, it may lead to many disadvantages including discrimination (VisionPoint Productions, 2002).

Acts, Laws and Regulations against Discrimination

The Employment Equity Act

The Employment Equity Act is defined in Canadian law. It requires federal employers to engage in employment practices which aim to increase the representation of the four designated groups. The groups include women, people living with disabilities, the Aboriginal people andthe visible minorities.The Act also has a special emphasis on equity. It reaffirms the need to not only treat people with equity but to also ensure that there is fairness in the way people are treated according to their different capabilities (Vosko, 2006).

Employers are required by law to remove barriers to employment, those which disadvantage the four designated group, members. These employment barriers are for instance; wheelchair – inaccessible buildings, or even practices that specifically make those designated people uncomfortable. Furthermore, employers are also required to put in place positive policies for the recruitment, training or promotion of the members of the designated groups. Such positive policies may include recruiting from Aboriginal communities, advertising for jobs in a foreign language for the minor group or even a training program for people living with disabilities (Vosko, 2006).

The idea for the employment Equity was established in the 1984 Abella Commission which was chaired by JudgeRosalie Abella. In the place of affirmative action, she came up with the term “employment equity” specifically for the Canadian context. Her report later became the base for the establishment of the Employment Equity Act in 1986. It was later amended in 1995. The Act aims at achieving equity in the workplace and ensuring that no one is denied the benefits of employment or employment opportunities for reasons that are not related to capability. This legislation emphasizes that it is specifically aimed at rectifying the forms of discrimination experienced by aboriginal peoples, women, minority groups and people with disabilities in the workplace. It advocates for equity in the workplace and integration of special measures within the work-place to have these groups treated fairly according to their capabilities (Vosko, 2006).

According to Vosko (2006), theEmployment Equity Acthelped ensure that all Canadian citizens had equal access to the labor market. It also required employers to ensure the full representation of members of the four designated groups in their companies. The four designated groups are:

The Aboriginal people
Persons living with disabilities
Members of visible minorities

The act dictates that employers should ensure equality in the workplace by;

Determining if all the designated groups are represented at every level of the organization’s workforce
Identifying employment barriers if any
Working with all the employees in developing a plan that promotes full representation of the designated groups

According to Vosko (2006), the responsibility for giving effect to the act is laid on these departments and commissions. These include;

The Human Resources and Skills Development, Canada: It advices and provides the employers with the tools required to abide by the act. They also collect employment equity reports in the private sector.
TheCanadian Human Rights Commission: It conducts audits of compliance for all the federally regulated businesses, corporations and public sector organizations.
TheTreasury Board Secretariat: This maintains databases on availability and representation of members of the designated groups in all federal public sector organizations. Furthermore, it tables the federal public sector annual reports on employment equity to the Canadian Parliament.
ThePublic Service Commission: develops policies in the sectors of staffing and recruitment and ensures proper application of theact by all the departments and agencies.

The Canadian Human Rights Act

The act prohibits discrimination of persons on the basis of, race, ethnicity, gender and other grounds. It continues to be in force together with the Employment Equity Act. The main difference between the two acts is that the Canadian Human Rights Act simply prohibits discrimination, while the Employment Equity Act strongly requires that employers engage in proactive measures in order to streamline the opportunities for the employment for the four designated groups above. The Canadian Human Rights Act furthermore protects minorities, such as sexual and religious minorities, while the Employment Equity Act is limited to the four groups. In Canada, employment equity is a specific legal concept and should not be used as a synonym for non-discrimination or workplace diversity. It was established under the act, is theCanadian Human Rights Commission(CHRC) in 1977 by the government of Canada. Its purpose isto investigate and settle complaints of discrimination in employment and also in the provision of public services within federal jurisdiction. It is also empowered under the Employment Equityact to ensure employers provideequal opportunities for the four designated groups. The CHRC also helps to enforce these rights and informing the public and federal employers of these rights (Vosko, 2006).


Enforcements of the acts and laws above

These laws were enacted and put in place for a purpose. They are meant to give each and every qualified individual an equal employment opportunity. The government of Canada and the bodies put in place like the Canadian Labour Organization should not only publicize the laws but should enforce them.

Reporting the Violators

Despite the efforts made, some employers still discriminate workers. In such cases any discriminated individual or even group should report the employer. Avenues are in place to deal with and ensure such violators face the law.

Appealing To Employers Humanity

Helping them see that their discriminatory actions, some of which may evade the law, as inhuman and hurting. Such campaigns may aid them treat their workers equal. Employers are also charged with the responsibility of:

Creating a workplace free from discrimination and form any form of harassment
Providing a policy for dealing with discriminations when they occur.
Ensuring that all employees and the management staff understand and abide by the policies
Respond to complaints in time.
Discipline and fine those employees found discriminating others.
Carrying out managerial duties in a way that doesn’t abuse authority, or intimidate any employees leave alone discriminating them.


Canada. (1978). New directions: A look at Canada’s immigration act and regulations. Ottawa: Employment and Immigration Canada.

Canada. (2013). Language of work in federally regulated private businesses in QueI?bec not subject to the Official Languages Act. Gatineau, QueI?bec: Govt. of Canada.

Crosby, F. J., Stockdale, M. S., & Ropp, S. A. (2007). Sex discrimination in the workplace: Multidisciplinary perspectives. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Goldring, L., & Landolt, P. (2013). Producing and negotiating non-citizenship: Precarious legal status in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Hunter, R. C. (1992). Indirect discrimination in the workplace. Annandale, NSW: Federation Press.

Lawrence, K., Klos, K. A., & Center for Compliance Information (Aspen Systems Corporation). (1978). Sex discrimination in the workplace. Germantown, Md: Aspen Systems Corp.

Phelan, G. E., & Arterton, J. B. (1992). Disability discrimination in the workplace. St. Paul: Thomson/West.

Tribe, A., Curlis, J., Etheridge, S., Quarry, P., Ash, E., & Training Point.Net. (2009). Discrimination in the workplace. Bendigo, Vic.: Training

United States. (2008). Best practices for eradicating religious discrimination in the workplace. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

United States. (2008). Questions and answers: Religious discrimination in the workplace. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

VisionPoint Productions. (2002). Harassment & discrimination in the workplace: It’s not just about sex anymore. Des Moines, IA: VisionPoint Productions.

Vosko, L. F. (2006). Precarious employment: Understanding labour market insecurity in Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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