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Equal Opportunity Employment

Equal opportunity employment is an important goal 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.

Employment equity 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.

But, equal treatment does not always make an equal opportunity employer.
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. A Special Program must be designated by the Human Rights Commission.

Further, under the relatively new Access for Ontarians with Disability Act (“AODA”) most employers 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 employers’ obligations to explore accommodation and provide it to the point of undue hardship.

Lastly, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has guidelines dealing with conflicting or competing human rights in the workplace. Employer policies should address pay equity issues, available accommodation for family status, and note on applications and prior to interviews that accommodation is available, if needed.

In order to comply with the foregoing legal requirements we recommend implementing a policy or employee handbook which details an employer’s commitment to being an equal opportunity employer and summarizes how they are fulfilling that commitment with reference to options available to employees to ensure equal opportunities. We also recommend a hiring check-list which confirms that accommodation is available for those who need it for interviews.