Human Rights at Work

Human Rights Law

In Ontario, everyone is protected by human rights laws. These laws, which are known as the Human Rights Code, impact the workplace more than anything else.

The most important thing to know about human rights laws is that they make ‘discrimination’ illegal. Discrimination in the workplace means prejudicial treatment of an employee because of: 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 or disability.

Because discrimination is illegal, anyone or any company that discriminates against someone is liable to compensate the victimized party (usually between $10,000 and $25,000 for less serious offenses, but there is no limit – a recent case awarded $420,000 for human rights damages).

Discrimination During a Job Application

It is illegal for employers to discriminate when they hire their employees. For example, this means that employers:

  • must not prescreen job applicants for discriminatory reasons;
  • must not ask discriminatory questions in the interview; and
  • must not refuse to hire anyone based on a discriminatory reason.

Discrimination while Working

It is illegal for employers to discriminate a worker regarding wages, hours, job descriptions, the assigning of work, evaluations, discipline, promotion and everything else under the control of the employer or its managers. For example, this means that employers:

  • must not treat women differently than man;
  • must accommodate different religious practices; and
  • must not consider race as a factor in promotions.

Disability Accommodation at Work

At the same time, employers must reasonably accommodate employers who have disabilities, otherwise it is discrimination. This means that, where practical, employers must give disabled employees special treatment at the workplace, or keep them employed while they are on prolonged leave from work. For example, some accommodations include:

  • amending working hours;
  • providing alternative jobs; and
  • working from home.

If an employer fails to accommodate an employee’s disability, or disciplines them due to their disability, or just treats them adversely in some way because of their disability, the employer can be liable to compensate or reinstate affected employees.

Leaves of Absence

In certain circumstances, akin to a disability, employees are entitled to take a leave of absence from work, such as maternity, parental and sickness leave. If the employer, however, refuses to accommodate the employee by protecting their job for when they return, it is discrimination.


Everyone has the right to be free from unwelcome comments or conduct in the workplace. In this regard, Ontario considers harassment a breach of human rights at work. Harassment can come in many forms, including:

  • Unwelcome remarks about race, religion, sex, or age any other grounds of discrimination;
  • Unwelcome physical contact;
  • Threats or intimidating remarks; and
  • Violence.

If the employer or an employee of the employer is guilty of harassment, the employer can be fined, ordered to change its policies, make accommodations, and compensate the victim financially as much as $200,000 or more.

Discriminatory Termination

It is illegal for employers to terminate an employee or demand the resignation of employee for a discriminatory reason. For example, this means that employers:

  • must not fire disabled workers; and
  • must not force the elderly to retire.

If someone is fired for a discriminatory reason, they can sue for wrongful dismissal damages and human rights damages. Human rights damages, which are usually in the $25,000 range upon termination, compensate for the loss of the right to be free from discrimination (also known as insult to dignity).

Cases handled at Dutton Employment Law:

Dutton Employment Law is regularly sought out by employers and employees for the following services:

  • Accommodation of disabilities, parental obligations or illnesses;
  • Discriminatory drug and alcohol testing or discipline;
  • Discrimination in the promotion of female minorities;
  • Lack of work assigned due to past injury at the workplace;
  • Wrongful comments and touching of a sexual nature directed at female employees; and
  • Race, age or sex related wrongful dismissal.

Contact a Human Rights lawyer in Toronto now.