Ontario, Canada is one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the world when it comes to acknowledging the rights of individuals on the basis of sexual orientation. Over ten years ago, Canada celebrated its first gay marriage in Ontario. It was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to permit same sex marriages.
Let’s look at things more closely. The Ontario Human Rights Code specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. It also prohibits harassment that occurs because of these personal characteristics.
Despite Ontario laws and court decisions expanding rights in this area, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees continue to face discrimination in the workplace.
In some cases, a supervisor (or co-worker) taunts and discriminates against an employee because of his or her sexual orientation. In other cases, the organization terminates a person when a person’s sexual orientation becomes known.
Examples of Discrimination
One form of discrimination is directing lewd or demeaning remarks towards an employee. In one case, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal heard a case where an employee was subjected to the following harassment: “The conduct escalated to the frequent use of derogatory comments such as “freak”, “faggot”, and “fag” and the complainant was openly accused of wanting to molest children.” As a result the Tribunal ordered the employer to pay the employee damages.
In another case, a religious organization terminated a support worker when it found out she was a lesbian. It claimed a heterosexual only policy was a bona fide qualification of her job because of the nature of her employment. The Tribunal disagreed and awarded her damages.
What is an Employer to Do
- We recommend that almost all employers introduce a human rights policy that prohibits discrimination and that this policy have a complaint procedure.
- We recommend that senior management sign off on this policy to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to it.
- We recommend that all front line supervisors receive human rights sensitivity training.
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For the past 25 years, Doug MacLeod of the MacLeod Law Firm has been advising and representing employers in connection with human rights issues. If you have any questions, you can contact him at 416 317-9894 or at [email protected]
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