Ethnic discrimination occurs when an employee is treated different than his or her colleagues based on their ethnicity in a manner that is unfair. A person’s ethnicity refers to the national, cultural or religious group(s) to which they belong, or are perceived to belong. A person’s ethnicity can be shown visually (i.e. if they wear a turban), linguistically, (e.g. if they have a Chinese accent), or it can be difficult to detect. A person’s ethnicity is associated with their cultural identity, and it can change over time. In contrast, a person’s race is generally seen as an unchangeable part of their biological makeup.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code prohibits ethnic discrimination in the workplace. Ethnic discrimination often overlaps with other types of discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code, such as race, place of origin, creed and ancestry.
Ethnic discrimination in the workplace can come in many forms, some of which are very commonplace. A manager who makes fun of his subordinate’s hijab would likely have engaged in ethnic discrimination. An employee who is denied a receptionist position based the fact she is not proficient in English may have experienced ethnic discrimination. She could make an application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal claiming discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin. However, the potential employer could defend against her claim by arguing to the Tribunal that English proficiency is a legitimate requirement for the position. The Tribunal will closely analyze the claim that English proficiency is required for a position. In many cases, an employee does not need to have perfect English skills in order to perform the duties associated with a particular position.
Author: Simone Ostrowski, Whitten & Lublin