Equal opportunity employment is important and is in line with the employment equity goals of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, existing Federal employment legislation, and the Human Rights Code.
While this is mandated for federal employers pursuant to the Employment Equity Act, which mandates reporting requirements with respect to the number of visible minorities, including women, other employers are left to craft their own policies and best practices to ensure equal opportunities.
As always, equal treatment does not always make an equal opportunity employer.
With this in mind, Ontario employers are able to implement policies pursuant to the Ontario Human Rights Code’s section 14 – “Special Programs”. The Code allows what might otherwise appear to be preferential treatment where the treatment is directed towards a historically disadvantaged group. As such, it is not discriminatory to implement a program if it is designed to: (a) relieve hardship or economic disadvantage; (b) help disadvantaged people achieve, or try to achieve, equal opportunity; or (c) help eliminate discrimination.
Further, under the new AODA requirements, employers now have an obligation to notify employees, the public, and job applicants of the availability of accommodation for disability.
The AODA requirements are in addition to an employers’ obligation to explore accommodation and provide it to the point of undue hardship.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has also recently released guidelines dealing with conflicting or competing human rights in the workplace. Employer policies should address pay equity issues and available accommodation for family status.
Our recommendation is to implement a policy or employee handbook which expressly summarises the employer’s commitment not only to being an equal opportunity employer, but also how they are fulfilling that commitment and, options available to employees to ensure equal opportunities.
Author: Ellen Low, Whitten & Lublin