The Ontario Human Rights Code: A Primer

The Ontario Human Rights Code: A Primer

Enacted in 1962, the Ontario Human Rights Code stands as a cornerstone in promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion within the province. In this primer, we aim to provide a clear and practical understanding of the code, its significance, and its implications for individuals and organizations.

It’s important to note that while the Ontario Human Rights Code is a provincial legislation. Canada also has a federal equivalent known as the Canadian Human Rights Act, which addresses human rights issues for organizations and activities that are under federal jurisdiction.

Key Principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario Human Rights Code is a legislative framework designed to prevent discrimination and harassment while ensuring equal rights and opportunities for all. The human rights code is built upon several key principles:

  • Equal Treatment: The code mandates equal treatment without discrimination. Individuals should have the same access to opportunities and services regardless of their protected characteristics.
  • Accommodation: The code requires organizations to make reasonable accommodations to enable individuals with disabilities to fully participate. This principle promotes inclusivity and accessibility.
  • Harassment Prevention: The code prohibits any form of harassment based on protected grounds. This includes unwelcome conduct that creates a hostile or intimidating environment.

What Is a Protected Ground Under the Ontario Human Rights Code

In the context of human rights legislation, including the Ontario Human Rights Code, protected grounds are categories or characteristics that individuals cannot be discriminated against based on. When an individual experiences unfair treatment, harassment, or disadvantage due to any of these protected grounds, they have legal recourse to challenge and address the discrimination.

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the following are the protected grounds against which discrimination is prohibited:

  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place of Origin
  • Colour
  • Citizenship
  • Ethnic Origin
  • Creed
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity
  • Gender Expression
  • Age
  • Marital Status
  • Family Status
  • Disability
  • Receipt of Public Assistance

When Does the Ontario Human Rights Code Apply

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, “social areas” refer to the various domains or contexts in which individuals may encounter discrimination or unequal treatment. The code prohibits discrimination in a range of social areas to ensure that people are treated fairly and equally in all aspects of life.

These social areas include:

  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Services
  • Contracts
  • Membership in Vocational Associations, Trade Unions and Professional Associations

These social areas encompass many aspects of daily life and interactions, aiming to ensure that individuals have equal access to opportunities, services, and benefits regardless of their protected characteristics. The goal is to create a society where diversity is celebrated and discrimination is eliminated.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our Experienced Human Rights Lawyers

Contact us by phone toll-free at 1-800-771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist.

Responsibilities for Organizations and Employers

Organizations operating in Ontario have a legal obligation to adhere to the Ontario Human Rights Code. This includes:

  • Creating Inclusive Policies: Developing policies that prevent discrimination and harassment, and promoting a diverse and inclusive environment.
  • Accommodation Measures: Providing reasonable accommodations to employees and clients with disabilities.
  • Addressing Complaints: Handling discrimination complaints promptly and fairly, with a commitment to resolving issues.

Duty To Accommodate and the Ontario Human Rights Code

Accommodation as a topic surfaces when we are discussing disabilities.

Employers must accommodate employees with disabilities and other needs to the point of undue hardship. The employers must prove that the accommodation would be excessive, and any accommodation would be unfair to the employer. This is hard to do as an employer, and special attention must be paid during attempts to accommodate an employee who requires alternate duties that work with their medical condition.

Failure to provide proper or adequate accommodation may land the employer in hot waters, worse, at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario where they may be found liable to pay general damages and even lost wages.

Accommodation is not a one-size-fits-all exercise. Accommodation may include permitting an employee to work from home, or modifying their schedule to cover different days. If accommodation is needed due to a physical injury, an employee may be entitled to accommodation in the form of lighter duties.

Accommodation can exist in many different forms, and the burden remains on the employer is to accommodate the employee to the point of undue hardship.

Undue Hardship and the Ontario Human Rights Code

What constitutes “undue hardship” depends on the context and the facts of the case. A large employer with a huge payroll may have a greater duty to accommodate than a small business with fewer resources. An employer who is readily able to offer certain accommodations will have a greater duty to provide the required modification to permit the employee to continue earning a living.

Determining how far an employer must accommodate is a difficult task, and will vary based on the industry, size, budget, and other factors.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation with our Experienced Human Rights Lawyers

Contact us by phone toll-free at 1-800-771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist.

Steps to Address Discrimination

If you believe you have experienced discrimination, there are steps you can take:

  • Document the Incident: Keep records of the discriminatory incident, including dates, times, locations, and any involved parties.
  • Contact the Ontario Human Rights Commission: Seek guidance from the commission, which provides information and resources related to human rights.
  • Consult Legal Professionals: If the situation requires legal intervention, consider consulting with a human rights lawyer.

How a Human Rights Lawyer Can Assist

Human rights lawyers play a crucial role in promoting fairness, equality, and compliance with human rights legislation in the workplace. Whether you are an employer seeking to establish inclusive policies or an employee facing discrimination, a human rights lawyer can provide valuable guidance and support. Here’s how a human rights lawyer can assist both employers and employees:

For Employers

Policy Development: Human rights lawyers can help employers draft comprehensive and compliant policies that prevent discrimination and harassment. They ensure that these policies align with provincial and federal human rights laws, creating a safe and inclusive work environment.

Accommodation Measures: When an employee requires accommodations due to a disability or other protected ground, a human rights lawyer can guide employers through the process of assessing and implementing reasonable accommodations.

Training and Education: Human rights lawyers can provide training sessions for management and employees to raise awareness about human rights issues, promote inclusivity, and prevent discrimination.

Legal Compliance: Human rights lawyers keep employers informed about changes in human rights legislation and ensure that their practices remain compliant with the law.

Conflict Resolution: If a human rights complaint arises within the organization, a human rights lawyer can facilitate effective conflict resolution, aiming to resolve issues internally and prevent legal action.

For Employees

Legal Advice: Human rights lawyers offer employees legal advice and guidance when they believe they have experienced discrimination or harassment. They can explain their rights, potential courses of action, and the steps to take.

Navigating the Complaint Process: If an employee wants to file a human rights complaint, a lawyer can assist with preparing the necessary documentation, ensuring the complaint is filed correctly and within the required timelines.

Negotiation and Mediation: Human rights lawyers can engage in negotiation or mediation with the employer or their legal representatives to reach a resolution without going to court.

Representation in Legal Proceedings: If a resolution cannot be reached through negotiation, a human rights lawyer can represent the employee in legal proceedings, advocating for their rights and seeking appropriate remedies.

Protection from Retaliation: Human rights lawyers can help employees understand their protections against retaliation for filing a complaint or asserting their rights.

In both cases, the role of a human rights lawyer is to provide legal advice, ensure that the rights of all parties are respected, and work towards equitable solutions. Whether you are an employer striving for an inclusive workplace or an employee seeking justice, a human rights lawyer can be a valuable ally in navigating the complexities of human rights issues.

In Summary

Human rights lawyers are indispensable in the context of employers and employees, especially when dealing with the intricacies of the Ontario Human Rights Code. Employers benefit from their expertise in crafting inclusive policies, facilitating accommodation processes, delivering training, and ensuring adherence to the law. They also excel in resolving conflicts and staying current with the ever-evolving landscape of human rights legislation.

For employees, human rights lawyers provide invaluable legal counsel, guiding them through the complaint process, negotiating resolutions, representing their interests in legal proceedings, and shielding them from potential retaliation. In summary, human rights lawyers are invaluable allies in promoting fairness, equality, and compliance within workplaces, all while empowering individuals to effectively address human rights concerns under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Contact Achkar Law

Whether you are an employer or employee, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Human Rights Act are two complex pieces of legislation that should be navigated with care.

If you have a question or are unsure how your rights as an employee or your duties as an employer apply to you, contact us at 1 (800) 771-7882 or email [email protected].

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