Human Rights

What are your human rights?

Employees across Canada are protected against discrimination in the workplace. This protection is meant to ensure equal treatment for all employees despite differences in race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, same sex partnership status, family status or handicap. It comes in the form of human rights legislation that has been enacted in each province and in the federal jurisdiction.

What are your human rights?

What are your options?
Employees who have been subjected to discriminatory treatment may file a complaint with the appropriate Human Rights Commission or Tribunal. Alternatively, employees may include Human Rights Claims in lawsuits. See the Remedies section of this website for discussion of options. Workplace complaints are not limited to situations in which employees are fired. Human Rights issues may arise in hiring, promotion decisions, workplace policies, holiday scheduling, benefits, harassment (including sexual harassment), and disability situations.

These are just a few of the most common types of human rights complaints that have found their way to various commissions and courts across the country:

Accommodation of Disabilities:

What must employers do to ensure that disabled employees are fairly treated in the workplace? This issue has resulted in a great deal of litigation in which employers, employee groups and others have fought over the extent to which employers are required to change workplace conditions in the interest of fair treatment for all employees. There are no clear answers to this question although the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that employers must accommodate disabled employees to the point of “undue hardship.”

Religious Minorities:

Are Saturday Sabbath observers and other religious minorities entitled to protection of their jobs if they cannot work on certain days? What about in small workplaces, where other employees will be inconvenienced? Do employees have the right to pray at certain times during the day even if that might interfere with normal work duties? Once again, courts have held that employers must accommodate the religious practices of all employees to the point of “undue hardship.”

Sexual Harassment:

No one should have to put up with any kind of harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment includes a course of conduct that makes a person uncomfortable as a result of his or her gender. It also includes sexual solicitations or advances that are unwelcome – particularly, but not exclusively, where made by a person’s boss or superior. Most workplaces should have strict sexual harassment policies which provide a definition of sexual harassment and provide a process for investigation of any complaints of improper conduct. These policies should also specify the possible consequences (immediate dismissal) that harassers will face.

Racial Discrimination:

Employers are required to treat all of their employees fairly regardless of racial background. Employees who feel that they have been subjected to discriminatory treatment because of their race may file complaints with the Commission and ask for appropriate redress.

Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation:

GLBT employees often face issues of discrimination that relate directly or indirectly to their sexual orientation. Sometimes, this can relate to the use of inappropriate language in the workplace and can be quite explicit. Other cases involve discrimination against a person with a same sex spouse including benefits’ issues. In other cases, the discrimination is more subtle but is equally challenging and offensive. Canadian courts have played a world leadership role in protecting and advancing the rights of gay Canadians. Discrimination is simply not tolerated and there are readily available remedies for inappropriate conduct.

There are many other human rights issues that arise in workplaces including drug and alcohol testing, protection against discrimination for pregnant employees and employees on maternity leave, and other forms of discrimination. Many human rights commissions have extensive websites with policies, articles and recent decisions.

Ken Krupat represents employees and employers in addressing human rights complaints filed at the Ontario Human Rights Commission or under the Canadian Human Rights Code.

Many of these complaints are resolved through the process of mediation. Ken has assisted many clients at mediations in human rights matters.