Preventing Discrimination in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide

  • Discrimination
Preventing Discrimination in the Workplace: An Employer’s Guide
Charlie Herrera Vacaflor

Charlie Herrera Vacaflor, Employment Law & HR Content Senior Consultant

(Last updated )

Canadians are fortunate to have laws in place that protect them from discrimination, yet unfortunately, it is still prevalent in many workplaces across the country.

It’s crucial that employers and employees work together to create a workplace that is inclusive, respectful, and free from discrimination. By educating employees, establishing clear policies and procedures, and providing a clear process for reporting incidents of discrimination, employers can create a workplace that is welcoming and respectful to all.

Understanding what discrimination is, how you can prevent it, and how to respond should it occur, are all key parts of eliminating discrimination in your business.

What is discrimination?

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, discrimination occurs when stereotypical assumptions are made based on a person’s presumed traits, instead of individually assessing their unique merits, capacities, and circumstances. This includes denying benefits or imposing burdens on such individuals.

Many people are under the incorrect assumption that discrimination doesn’t exist if the impact wasn’t intentional, or if there were other factors that could explain a particular situation. But discrimination often takes place without any intent to do harm, and, in most cases, there are overlapping factors.

An example of this is an older woman applying for a job at a construction site being told in a positive manner that she reminds the interviewer of his grandmother. The woman is later told that the person hired was more physically fit because of his age and would also suit the predominantly male company culture better. On these grounds, this could be considered discrimination based on age and gender, despite the interviewer showing positive regard for the interviewee’s traits and that the person hired may be more suited to the job.

Discrimination often stems from the incorrect belief that everyone has the same access or ability as those in power. Failing to consider all perspectives, whether it’s a difference in age, race, religion, or level of ability can result in barriers to access for persons identified by the Code. These barriers, regardless of intentions, are defined as discrimination.

Why is preventing discrimination more important now than ever?

In 2018, the Canadian Human Rights Commission says it received 1,129 complaints, its highest number in over ten years.

Disability remained the most common ground of discrimination, representing 52% of the complaints. Other complaints reported were based on ethnic origin, race, colour, religion, and sex, which were also the highest in a decade.

Experiencing discrimination at work can expose workers to lower pay, barriers to promotions, social harm, and lowered psychological well-being. Working to eliminate discrimination and foster workplace diversity is crucial as an employer. Businesses that fail to adapt to the changing labour force and marketplace may face talent shortages, stagnating growth, and discrimination complaints.

What laws protect Canadians from workplace discrimination?

Canadians have the right to be treated fairly in workplaces free from discrimination and certain laws exist to protect this right.

Each provincial government has its own human rights legislation, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender, race, and ethnicity, and other grounds, while federally regulated employees are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The Employment Equity Act also requires employers to take active measures to improve the employment standards for specific groups of people in Canada.

What are the consequences of discrimination in the workplace?

Workplace discrimination can have far-reaching negative impacts on both employees and organizations. The cost of legal disputes, losing employees, developing a negative workplace culture, high turnover, and negative reviews can be detrimental to the organization’s financial health and reputation. It’s crucial for organizations to create and maintain a diverse and inclusive work environment that treats all employees with respect and dignity.

Legal disputes

In Canada, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees or job applicants based on protected grounds such as race, gender, age, religion, and sexual orientation. Those who engage in such behaviour may face legal consequences including fines, compensation orders, and/or human rights tribunal complaints.

Loss of employees

Workplace discrimination can have a significantly negative impact on a work environment, leading to various issues that can harm both employees and the organization. One of the most significant impacts of workplace discrimination is if an employee resigns due to “constructive dismissal.”

This occurs when an employee feels they have no choice but to resign because of the intolerable working conditions caused by discrimination, such as unequal treatment, harassment, or a hostile work environment. Losing employees in this way can be costly for the organization, leading to lower productivity, decreased morale, and increased recruitment and training costs.

Negative workplace culture

Furthermore, a negative workplace culture can develop when discrimination is present. Employees who experience discrimination may feel isolated, undervalued, or unwelcome, leading to a breakdown in trust and collaboration within the team. This can lead to a toxic work environment that can negatively affect the mental health of employees, including anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. Such negative attitudes can also spread, affecting the overall productivity and performance of the organization.

High turnover

High turnover is another negative consequence of workplace discrimination. When employees feel discriminated against, they may be more likely to leave their job and seek employment elsewhere, leading to a high turnover rate. High turnover can create significant operational issues for an organization, including increased recruitment costs, lost productivity, and a loss of institutional knowledge.

Tarnished reputation

Finally, workplace discrimination can lead to negative reviews and a tarnished reputation for the organization. In today’s connected world, it’s easy for employees to share their experiences through social media or online reviews. Negative reviews can affect the organization’s ability to attract new employees and customers, leading to financial losses and difficulty in finding suitable candidates for open positions.

What are examples of discrimination in Canada?

The purpose of human rights legislation is to create a workplace free from discrimination and foster equality for people with various backgrounds. Under human rights legislation across Canada, employment is one of five protected social areas. Employees have a right to equal treatment, without discrimination because of their:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Race
  • Marital status
  • Gender identity/expression
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability

How can I prevent discrimination in the workplace?

Review your training

One of the most effective ways to prevent discrimination in the workplace is through education and training. Employers should provide training to their employees to ensure they understand their rights and responsibilities and to promote an inclusive and respectful workplace.

This training can include information on what constitutes discrimination, how to recognize it, and how to report it. Employers can also provide training on cultural sensitivity, diversity, and inclusion to promote understanding and respect for different cultures and backgrounds.

Have proper policies in place

It is also important for employers to establish clear policies and procedures to prevent discrimination in the workplace. These policies should clearly state the expectations for employee behavior and outline the consequences for those who violate them. They should define discriminatory behaviours, outline a process for filing, investigating, and documenting complaints about discrimination, and set out measures to be taken in the case of an incident. Employers should ensure that their policies are enforced consistently and fairly.

Know your obligations

Some provinces require businesses to adopt an anti-discrimination policy as part of a broader policy on workplace discrimination and harassment. These may include a duty to make your workspace accessible for employees with disabilities or injuries, and adapt schedules, uniforms, and food menus for employees of various religions.

Adopt your hiring process

In addition to these measures, employers can also promote diversity and inclusion in their hiring practices. Employers can actively seek out candidates from different backgrounds and ensure that they are provided with equal opportunities to succeed. This can help create a workplace that reflects the and promote understanding for different cultures and backgrounds.

Ensure clear processes for addressing discrimination

Employers should also ensure that they have a clear process in place for employees to report incidents of discrimination. Employees should be able to report discrimination without fear of repercussion or reprisal. Employers should investigate all reports of discrimination and take appropriate action to address the issue.

Eliminate hiring biases

It’s unfortunately common for hiring to be biased, whether it’s against candidates with unfamiliar names, gaps in work history, or foreign credentials. Employers should work to review their hiring processes to eliminate discrimination.

One possible solution is blind recruitment, whereby the name and other identifying information from resumes is removed. It may also be helpful to entrust hiring to a panel, as opposed to a single individual.

Employers responsible for hiring should also learn how to understand non-traditional resumes and international credentials.

Partner with community groups

To foster diversity, employers can also consider partnering with community groups to expand your hiring among specific populations and receive advice on improving diversity. For example, you could reach out to non-profit recruitment agencies that work with new immigrants or older workers to access a new talent pool.

Adapt your onboarding process

Review your onboarding process to make sure it’s inclusive. A well-thought-out process helps ensure new hires integrate smoothly and sends a message that discrimination is unacceptable. In this process, employers can articulate what is and isn’t permissible behaviour in terms of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. It can also help newcomers understand their rights.

Do you need help updating your HR policies to combat discrimination and promote diversity?

Employers have a responsibility to ensure that their workplace is inclusive and free from discrimination. By taking proactive steps to prevent discrimination, you can create a workplace that is respectful, welcoming, and supportive of all employees.

A key part of fostering a workplace free of discrimination is to have well-drafted anti-discrimination policies in place. Our HR advisors can help you create, update, and review company policies, as well as provide any advice you may need on HR, health and safety, or employee management.

To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1 (833) 247-3652

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