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The Employer’s Guide to Canada Anti-Discrimination Law

Key Takeaways

1. Canada has some of the most rigorous regulation in the world when it comes to protecting individuals from discrimination and harassment across varying contexts.   

2. There are a range of federal and provincial legislative instruments that outline Canada anti-discrimination laws, and key requirements that Canadian employers are obliged to comply with. 

3. It is up to the employer to ensure they know the federal and provincial law differences to ensure they remain compliant across all areas of Canadian anti-discrimination and employment laws. 

4. A Global PEO can help an international company hire Canadian workers quickly and provide guidance on all matters related to Canadian anti-discrimination and employment law. 

Canadian anti-discrimination laws in general, have come under scrutiny in recent months with claims the current laws at the federal and provincial level are outdated and require reform. Last year, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of indigenous People Act was sworn into Canadian law as an attempt to take a more active approach to tackle existing systematic inequalities and discrimination of minority groups.

In terms of Canadian employment law, human rights protections are written into varying legislative instrument to protect Canadians against forms of discrimination and harassment in employment contexts. However, as with much of Canadian law, different interpretations are possible, and it is up to companies to ensure they have adequate inclusion and diversity policies in place to limit discrimination in the workplace. 

This article will provide a guide to Canadian anti-discrimination laws to help ensure employers are aware of their obligations. 

Note: This guide provides general information only and does not constitute legal advice. To understand how employment law applies to your particular business you should consult professional advice. 

What are the key requirements of Canadian anti-discrimination law?

Human rights protections are contained in various legislative tools at both a federal and provincial level in Canada to guarantee freedom from discrimination and harassment in employment contexts. 

At its foundation, the key requirement of Canadian anti-discrimination law is the prohibition on any adverse, preferential, or differential treatment of anyone, including extra protections for individuals that fit within specific protected groups. There are varying legislative instruments, both at federal and provincial level that outline provisions that are aimed at reducing discrimination with their appropriate application and interpretation.  

Federal requirements

There are three key pieces of legislation that employers should be aware of that include provisions for Canada anti-discrimination laws as they relate to employment contexts.

The first key piece of legislation is the Canadian Human Rights Act. This piece of legislation is far-reaching in its impact, and gives Canadian workers who are employed or receive services either from the federal government, first nations government or federally regulated companies, the right to be to be treated fairly and free from discrimination based on certain grounds. Key ‘grounds for discrimination’ under this act include discrimination based on age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, family status, marital status, race-related and disability.

The Employment Equity Act provides obligations to employers of federally-regulated organizations and businesses to provide employment equity to specific designated groups. These groups include women, aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities and members of visible minorities.

Finally, the Canada Labour Code includes general labor rights and responsibilities for federally regulated sectors (this covers such diverse sectors as air transportation, banking and telecommunications — see the full list here). Within this Code are the minimum standards and benefits that employers are obligated to provide to their employees. 

Understanding these minimum standards is essential when applying Canada anti-discrimination law, as a common form of discrimination is to deprive some individual or groups of their minimum entitlements. 

Provincial requirements

All organizations doing business in Canada must consider the application of provincial laws as well as federal laws. For example, hiring an employee in the province of Ontario requires an employer to comply with the “right to disconnect law” which is not a provision listed in federal legislation: This law protects an employee from being contacted after contracted work hours and offers an employee the opportunity to a greater work/life balance.

Generally speaking, provincial anti-discrimination legislation will apply to any business that is not otherwise covered by federal laws. For example, Ontario employers must comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code. This largely replicates prohibitions on all the categories of discrimination contained in the federal Human Rights Act. 

“Equal treatment” under that code applies to nearly every aspect of the workplace environment including job applications, recruitment and training. As with federal law, it also covers discrimination in how benefits are distributed to employees. 

When hiring full-time Canadian or foreign workers in Canada, it is important that employers are aware of the specific provincial differences, so they can comply with the law and protect the rights of their Canadian employees.

How can a Canadian employer ensure compliance with Canadian anti-discrimination law?

The underlying goal for all federal and provincial legislation, is at minimum, to promote and create Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) for all Canadians and foreign workers working under Canadian jurisdiction. Providing EEO is pertinent to reducing discrimination in Canadian society, and in employment practices, especially for historically under-represented and discriminated groups.

To ensure EEO, it is important for Canadian employers to be aware of the duties that apply to employers in their particular industry. 

For example, for those employers covered by the Canadian Employment Equity Act, there is an obligation to implement anti-discrimination practices by:

  1. Identifying and removing key barriers against persons in designated protected groups in all employment policies, systems and practices not authorized by law
  2. Making reasonable accommodations to individuals of designated groups so there can be a degree of representation of each group within an employer’s workforce. This includes representation in the overall Canadian workforce and segments by qualification, eligibility, or geography 

It is not a requirement under this Act for employers to take special measures to meet these obligations, but rather to ensure that at the most basic level, all company policies must equate to providing employment equity at their core.  

Guard against discrimination with Horizons

If you are looking to hire in Canada but are overwhelmed by all the regulatory requirements, let Horizons support your move into the Canadian market. 

As a leading Canada PEO, Horizons can ensure compliance with employment laws all over the world, including Canada’s anti-discrimination laws. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

There are multiple legislative instruments that aim to prevent discrimination in Canada. Which ones apply depend on the location of the employer, and the industry they are in. 

For example, the Canadian Human Rights Act outlines provisions that give the right to all persons employed under federal jurisdiction to be treated fairly and free from discrimination: That Act protects individuals from being discriminated or harassed on grounds such as age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, family status, marital status, race-related and disability.

The Canadian Human Rights Act enacted in 1997 might be considered Canada’s equivalent to the UK Equality Act, and is designed to ensure equality in opportunity for all Canadians and foreign workers employed by federally-regulated industries. 

Note, however, that the Canadian Human Rights Act does not apply to all employers in Canada, whereas the Equality Act 2010 applies to all employers in the UK. 

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