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Understanding Human Rights in the Workplace: An Ontario Perspective

Human rights provide guidance and protection in employment, creating equitable and respectful workplaces with equal opportunities for all.

From a legislative perspective, the Ontario Human Rights Code mandates an employer’s obligation to eliminate employee discrimination and provide reasonable accommodation to employees. This blog will discuss this statute in further details below.

From a societal perspective, employers are strongly encouraged to promote diversity, equality, and inclusivity in the workplace in order to retain good talent and reduce turnover. Furthermore, bullying and harassment within the workplace can create a negative work environment, decreased productivity, and may negatively impact employees’ health and well-being. As a result, understanding how human rights applies in the workplace is crucial for employees and employer organizations of all sizes.

In this blog, we will explore how human rights entitlements apply in Ontario workplaces from both a legislative and practical standpoint.

The Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code”) was brought into force in 1962 and was one of the first in North America. The Code provides every person with the right to equal treatment in employment without discrimination or harassment because of any of the following protected grounds:

  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place of origin
  • Colour
  • Ethnic origin
  • Citizenship
  • Creed
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Age
  • Record of offences
  • Marital status
  • Family status and/or
  • Disability

Protections under the Code apply to every part of the employment relationship including but not limited to, the application and recruitment process, training, promotions, dismissal, compensation, hours of work, workplace policies, and benefits.

Types of Discrimination in the Workplace

The Code prohibits discrimination based on any of the above noted protected grounds. While “discrimination” is not specifically defined in the Code, there are a few different forms of discrimination that have been recognized.

  1. Direct discrimination refers to a situation where an employer adopts a rule that is consciously discriminatory by treating a person differently because of a protected ground. For example, if an organization states that they do not hire individuals who are not from Canada.
  2. Indirect discrimination refers to a situation where another person in the organization is discriminatory by indirectly treating a certain person differently. For example, if a hiring manager tells a recruiter not to schedule interviews with people who have a disability because they may require more time off.
  3. Systemic discrimination occurs when a workplace requirement or policy appears to be non-discriminatory, however in practice it excludes certain individuals. For example, a workplace rule that requires all employees to work every other Saturday may be discriminatory against individuals who attend church or religious practice on Saturdays.
  4. Discrimination because of association occurs when an individual is harassed or discriminated against because they are associated with a person who is covered by a protected ground. For example, an individual is not promoted to a role because they are friends with another employee who is a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

Preventing and Resolving Discrimination 

If an employee finds themselves experiencing discrimination or harassment in the workplace that is not effectively addressed through internal channels, they have the option to pursue resolution by filing a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

To prevent discrimination, employers should have employee training and policies in place to ensure that employees are aware of their rights and expectation of others in the workplace, how to report discrimination or harassment, and the investigation process.

Rights and Obligations of Employers

Employers are responsible for ensuring that the workplace is free from discrimination and harassment. Employers can be found liable and held accountable for discrimination and harassment that is committed or condoned. Furthermore, an employer can be held responsible for discrimination and harassment if they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the violations.

Additionally, employers have a duty to accommodate an employee’s needs based on a protected ground to the point of undue hardship. For example, if an employee requests a modification to a work uniform to accommodate religious dress.

Overall, employers must take all reasonable steps to ensure that their employees are free of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.


Human rights in the workplace are a significant concern for employers and employees alike. The Ontario Human Rights Code establishes protection of individuals from discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on the protected grounds under the Code.

Employers must, therefore, ensure that their operations are compliant with the legal requirements and promote equality, diversity, and inclusivity in the workplace. Employers and employees must be aware of their rights and obligations regarding human rights in the workplace to avoid legal consequences and promote a work environment that is safe, respectful, and fair for all.

If you are experiencing harassment or discrimination within your workplace and your employer is not fulfilling their duties according to the Human Rights Code, we encourage you to contact Toronto employment lawyers, Sultan Lawyers, at 416-214-5111 or here.

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