Types Discrimination in the Workplace

Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H. 19, as amended, states that everyone has a right to be free from discrimination.  Although discrimination is not specifically defined in the Human Rights Code, it typically arises from negative attitudes, stereotypes, and biases, including:

  • Failing to assess abilities, merits, and circumstances on an individual basis;
  • Stereotyping and assuming on the basis of perceived physical, psychological, and cognitive traits;
  • Arbitrary exclusion, denying benefits or support, and imposing undue burdens.
  • Discrimination can occur even if the impact of the behaviour is not intended.  As the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal points out, discrimination includes failing to consider other perspectives and omitting to include all individuals.  Such failures and omissions create barriers and constitute discrimination

There are many grounds of discrimination listed in the Human Rights Code:

  • Age: Discrimination on the basis of age is prohibited and it can occur at any time in an individual’s life.  For example, a young employee may face discrimination due to stereotypes regarding youth and inexperience, and may be treated as an expendable labour source.  Conversely, a senior employee may encounter discrimination in the form of perceived limited abilities and reduced career potential.

  • Sex: Men and women are equally protected under this ground of discrimination.  “Sex” includes the concept of gender together with male and female attributes.  Typical examples of discrimination on the basis of sex or gender are assumptions about professional abilities and stereotypes regarding how men and women are “meant” to dress, interact, and behave.
  • Race and Race-Related Grounds: The modern social construct of race is “racialization” and, in addition to physical characteristics, the following traits are typically racialized: colour; creed (religion); language; accent or dialect; name; clothing and grooming; diet; beliefs and practices; leisure preferences; ethnic origin; ancestry; places of origin; and, citizenship.

  • Disability: Under the Human Rights Code, a disability includes any degree of physical, developmental, cognitive, psychological, behavioural, or learning disability.  Discrimination on the basis of disability is usually due to myths, stereotypes, and skewed perceptions of functional limitations.
  • Marital Status: Any individual who is married, single, widowed, divorced, separated, or in a common-law relationship is protected under the Human Rights Code.  Such protection is to ensure that policies, behaviours, and actions are not based upon, and do not further, the stereotype that a male-female marriage is valued more than any other form of marital status.

  • Family Status: Defined in the Human Rights Code as being in a parent and child relationship, family status protects families formed through adoption, foster parents, step-parents, non-biological gay and lesbian parents, and all individuals who are in a parent and child relationship dynamic.
  • Pregnancy: This ground includes women who are, were, or may become pregnant and women who have had a child.  Protections for pregnancy include: infertility treatments; miscarriage; abortion; complications (bed rest); premature birth; post-birth complications; breastfeeding; and, recovery from childbirth.

  • Gender Identity: A person’s intrinsic sense of being male or female, which may not align with a person’s biological sex, is a protected ground.  Gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation, but includes self-image, physical and biological appearance, expression, conduct, and behaviour.
  • Sexual Orientation: Covering a range of human sexuality, this ground protects those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual.  Many examples of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation result from improper or inappropriate terminology.

  • Discrimination due to Association: A person who suffers discrimination as a result of their association with a person protected under the Human Rights Code.  Examples include racial discrimination by association (inter-racial relationships) and association with a person with a disability.

Employment and Labour Laws are not always straightforward, but whether you are an employee or an employer, understanding your rights and duties will only stand to benefit you. Reach out to an employment lawyer or labour lawyer today if you have any questions and be sure to get what you deserve and safeguard yourself for the future. The lawyers at Vey Willetts LLP have a proven track record and are happy to assist.  

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