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Human Rights Frequently Asked Questions

What is discrimination?

Discrimination means treating someone unfairly because of a particular characteristic or ground. Examples of discrimination include unfair treatment on the basis of age, disability, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, ethnic origin, creed, receipt of social assistance (housing only), sexual orientation, marital status, family status, record of offences (employment only, must have been pardoned), and sex.

The Ontario Human Rights Code is a provincial law that specifies the situations where discrimination is not allowed. (Note that not all unfair or unequal treatment is discrimination according to the Code). The Code protects people in Ontario from discrimination in the following five areas: Employment, Housing, Goods, Services and Facilities, contracts, membership in trade and vocational associations (such as unions).

The Code provides protection from discrimination or harassment on any of the following grounds: Race, Colour, Ancestry, Place of origin, Citizenship, Ethic origin, Disability, Creed, Sex, including sexual harassment, pregnancy, and gender identity, Sexual orientation, Family status, Marital status, Age, Receipt of public assistance (Note: This ground applies only to claims about housing.) Record of offences (Note: This ground applies only to claims about employment.)

The Code also provides some additional protections not listed here, and it allows for certain exemptions. For more information you can consult the Ontario Human Rights Code directly. (There is also a summary of the protections provided by the Code in the Application Guide, available on the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario website).

Where can someone go for help if they believe they have been discriminated against?

Claims of discrimination are handled by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). If you believe you’ve been discriminated against and you would like to file a claim of discrimination, the first step is to fill out an application. Application forms are available on the Tribunal’s website (here).

The HRTO’s website includes helpful information on the process of filing a discrimination claim, including an Application Guide and a Plain Language Guide to the claim process. You can also call the HRTO toll-free at 1-866-598-0322.

If you are considering filing an application with the HRTO may ask for advice from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre. The Centre offers free services throughout Ontario, including legal advice and other assistance, to individuals who believe their Human Rights have been violated. The Centre can provide advice about your claim and help you with the application process. For more information on getting help you visit the Centre’s website, or you can contact the Centre at 416-314-6266 or 1-866-625-5179.

Alternatively you may get help from legal clinics, a private lawyer or a paralegal, or you may choose to file an application on your own.

Do employers have to accommodate disabled employees?

In some circumstances, employees with disabilities may require special arrangements or “accommodations” to enable them to fulfill their duties. The Ontario Human Rights Code states that an employers have a legal “duty to accommodate” the special needs of these employees.

For more detailed information see the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Policy and guidelines on disability and the duty to accommodate.” Or you may wish to consult “Human Rights at Work,” which is a comprehensive resource concerning human rights in the workplace generally, also produced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

What information can a prospective employer ask of potential employees?

The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits employment-related discrimination on the grounds of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, family status or disability. This prohibition covers the employment application and recruitment process, including job advertisements, job applications and job interviews.

This means that job advertisements cannot refer to any of these prohibited grounds, and job applications cannot include questions relating to any of these prohibited grounds.
Requirements for employment must be reasonably related to the performance of the job. For example, if a job requires a person to drive a vehicle, then it would be reasonable for the job advertisement to require applicants to have a valid driver’s license.

The Ontario Human Rights Code specifies a number of special exceptions to the prohibition of discrimination in employment. These exceptions are based primarily on equity considerations, for example, the need to allow programs to serve the needs of particular communities.

For more detailed information see “Hiring: A human rights guide” produced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Or you may wish to consult “Human Rights at Work,” which is a comprehensive resource concerning human rights in the workplace generally, also produced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Can a prospective employer ask about a criminal record? Do potential employees have to disclose if they have a criminal record?

The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of a “record of offences.” This means that a prospective employer is prohibited from asking question intended to determine whether or not an applicant has been convicted of a criminal offence for which a pardon been granted, or whether or not an applicant has been convicted of any provincial offence. For example, a prospective employer cannot ask whether an applicant has ever been arrested, has ever been convicted of any offence, has ever spent time in jail, or has a criminal record, since these are questions that invite information on pardoned offences.

A prospective employer can ask an applicant whether he/she has been convicted of an offence for which a pardon has not been granted.

The Ontario Human Rights Code specifies some exceptions to this rule, however. For example, a prospective employer may refuse to hire an applicant on the basis of a “record of offences” if the employer can show that his/her reasons for doing so are reasonable, necessary, and rationally connected to the requirements of the job.

For more detailed information see “Human Rights at Work,” produced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Can a prospective employer ask for medical information, or require a medical examination?

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, any medical assessment (e.g. medical questions or physical examinations) of an applicant should only take place after a conditional offer of employment has been made, preferably in writing. The reason for this is to ensure that an applicant with a disability has the opportunity to be considered on the basis of his/her merits alone.

An employer may specify any genuine medically related job requirements in a job advertisement. Subsection 23(3) of the Ontario Human Rights Code permits employers, in an applicant interview, to ask whether the applicant has any disability-related needs that would require special accommodation in order to enable the applicant to perform the essential duties of the job.

For more detailed information see the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Policy on employment related medical information.” Or you may wish to consult “Human Rights at Work,” which is a comprehensive resource concerning human rights in the workplace generally, also produced by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

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