Workplace Discrimination

When we hear the term workplace discrimination we most often assume that it has to do with race. That is, however, only one type of discrimination. The more prevalent types of discrimination tend to be gender discrimination and age discrimination.

Discrimination is still a problem in the Canadian workplace even though there are laws such as the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code that prohibit such practices.

In addition, the individual provinces of Canada each have their own individual human rights laws and labour legislation to help regulate human behaviour in the workplace. There is also the Criminal Code that protects individuals from physical or sexual assault.

A large percentage of discrimination incidences are not being reported because not all employees know about, or understand, the laws that protect them against discrimination.

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee, or a group of employees, is treated differently, negatively or adversely because of their gender, race, colour, culture, nationality, ethnic origin, religion, age, disability, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, trade union membership or activity, or any other prohibited grounds of discrimination.

In other words discrimination is any action that can be considered a violation of human rights or anti-discrimination legislation.

Where Can Discrimination in the Workplace Occur?

Discrimination can occur in a number of areas in the workplace, most often in areas you would least expect it, such as:

  • recruiting and selecting staff
  • terms, conditions and benefits offered as part of employment
  • who receives training and what sort of training is offered
  • who is considered and selected for transfer, promotion, retrenchment or dismissal
  • disciplinary action

What are some Consequences of Discrimination for a Company?

Complaints of discrimination against a company can have some serious consequences. As a growing number of employees learn about and start exercising their worker rights, there has been an increase in the number of discrimination cases being filed against companies.

For employers - what you don't know can hurt your company. If you disregard workplace discrimination laws, your company can face heavy legal as well as financial penalties.

In addition, there's also the risk of bad publicity, high employee turnover, and low employee morale. These in turn can negatively impact on productivity and revenue.

Types of Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace can take on many different forms such as:

  • race discrimination (Colour, Creed, Ethnic Origin, Ancestry, Place of Origin)
  • age discrimination
  • wage discrimination
  • gender discrimination
  • sex discrimination
  • sexual discrimination (Pregnancy)
  • sexual orientation discrimination
  • religious discrimination
  • disability discrimination
  • Record of Offences
  • Family Status
  • Political Affiliation

Workplace Discrimination: Employers Responsibilities

Employers have a responsibility to:

  • Create a workplace that is free from discrimination and harassment
  • Provide a mechanism (discrimination policy) for dealing with discrimination when it occurs, and
  • Ensure that all employees, as well as management staff, understand the policy
  • Respond in a timely manner to complaints
  • Discipline those employees found guilty of discrimination
  • Carry out managerial and supervisory duties in a manner that does not abuse authority, or intimidate employees.

Employees Responsibilities Regarding Discrimination in the Workplace

Employees also have a responsibility to:

  • Keep their work environment free from harassment and discrimination
  • Refrain from any behaviour that constitutes or may be considered as discriminatory
  • Report any incidents of discrimination or retaliation.

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