HR Toolkit

Diversity at Work

Legal Considerations

Relevant employment legislation and standards
Human rights legislation protects people from discrimination. It seeks to guarantee equal treatment regardless of a particular identity or historical oppression in relation to employment and offers of employment, as well as in areas unrelated to employment.

Most human rights complaints originate in the workplace. As organizations strive to create better communities through their missions, it is vital that they also work to create inclusive workplaces that are respectful and welcoming of diversity. Legislation outlines legal requirements of employers; however, the greater goal is not just legal compliance but also about nurturing a culture of acceptance in the workplace.

Federal legislation
Two pieces of federal legislation set the groundwork for the creation of workplace diversity and support of an inclusive work environment:

The Employment Equity Act
This Act ensures that no person is denied employment opportunities for reasons other than ability. It aims to achieve equality in the workplace and improve job opportunities for four specific groups: women, Aboriginal Peoples, members of visible minorities and people with disabilities.

The Canadian Human Rights Act
This Act entitles all individuals to equal opportunities without regard to race or colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, family or marital status, sex (including pregnancy or childbirth), pardoned conviction, disability (either physical or mental or as the result of dependency on alcohol or drugs) or sexual orientation.

Provincial and territorial legislation
Jurisdictions: Although the Canadian Human Rights Act applies to only federally regulated businesses, provincially regulated organizations must adhere to provisions of the specific Human Rights Code for the province in which they operate. Almost all nonprofits fall under provincial/territorial jurisdiction for human rights legislation.

Excellent Website

Each province has slightly different grounds for discrimination - please see the Human Rights Legislation section of the HR Toolkit for links to specific provincial and territorial websites regarding human rights.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has made building accessible organizations mandatory in Ontario. The Act includes accessibility standards in:

  • Customer service
  • Information and communications
  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • Built environment

With various deadlines for compliance, the Act seeks to create an accessible Ontario by 2025.

To find out more about the AODA and what you need to do to make your workplace accessible visit the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure at:

See the Accessibility Policy section of the HR Toolkit for additional information.

The duty to accommodate

When building a diverse environment that is inclusive, changes may be needed in specific areas. For example, technological modifications and alternative formats for information delivery may be required, as well as changes to tasks and working hours. The term for this is accommodation.

Duty to accommodate refers to the legal obligation of an employer, service provider or union to take steps to eliminate disadvantages to employees, prospective employees or clients resulting from a rule, policy, practice, behaviour or physical barrier that has or may have an adverse impact on individuals or groups protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, or identified as a designated group under the Employment Equity Act. This includes the hiring process, as well as the accommodation of an individual once employed.

The duty to accommodate is most often applied for persons with physical or mental disability but also includes other grounds covered by the Canadian Human Rights Act, such as:

  • Race
  • National or ethnic origin
  • Colour
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Sex (including pregnancy)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital or family status
  • Conviction for which a pardon has been granted
Excellent Website
Different jurisdictions nt may have different interpretations for the duty to accommodate. It is important to check with the Human Rights Commission relevant to the appropriate province/territory. Also, recent legal changes have widened the applicability of accommodation.

Many accommodation options available to employers are low or no cost. While employers may need to adapt work stations or purchase supportive devices, these can be very simple changes. The accommodated employee will ultimately serve as an important source of information about accommodation needs and could potentially identify sources of funding for adaptive tools and technologies.

The accommodation process is an ongoing one, as both employee needs and the work environment change. Therefore, it is important to have an open communication with employees with disabilities and to regularly monitor their status.

Components of an accommodation policy
To ensure the creation of an effective and comprehensive accommodation policy, the following information should be included in a policy:

  • Declaration of commitment to accommodation
  • Policy statement
  • Legal framework
  • Application (to whom the policy applies)
  • Employer and employee responsibilities and obligations
  • Undue hardship
  • Procedures
  • Privacy and confidentiality requirements
  • Appeal and recourse measures
  • Monitoring and reporting activities

Non-requested accommodation
Not every person will self-identify for accommodation. This may be due to fear of being passed over for promotion or from the embarrassment of the societal stigma attached to some disabilities. Such employees should be approached confidentially and non-confrontationally to discuss possible accommodations. Affirmation that the employee will not be negatively affected by disclosure of  disability information may be required.

Grounds for non-accommodation
The only grounds for not accommodating an applicant or employee with personal characteristics protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act, is if the exclusion is based on a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement (BFOR). A BFOR is a standard or rule that is integral to carrying out the functions of a specific position. For a standard to be considered a BFOR, an employer has to establish that any accommodation or changes to the standard would create undue hardship. When a standard is a BFOR, an employer is not expected to change it to accommodate an employee.

Excellent Website
For more information on the duty to accommodate, please refer to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

For information on how to create an inclusive workplace, please refer to A Place for All: A Guide to Creating an Inclusive Workplace

Back to top

Next section: Recruitment and Hiring Practices