Everyone has the right to equal treatment under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Under this code, everyone has the right to equal opportunity when applying for a job, getting services, or renting a home. While this is the law, the reality can be quite different. You may be denied a job or an apartment because of the colour of your skin, your religion, age, or sexual orientation. This unfair treatment can cause pain, humiliation, and loss of dignity. Unequal or different treatment that causes harm is called discrimination. Make sure you know how to protect yourself and where to get support when confronting discrimination.
Ontario Human Rights Code
Ontario’s Human Rights Code (‘the Code’) is a provincial law that protects you from discrimination, but not in every situation. There are five areas where the Code protects your human rights. They are:
- Employment – applying for a job or while you are in the workplace;
- Housing – applying for housing or while you are living in your home;
- Services, goods and facilities – in a store or restaurant, when buying a product, in a school, hospital, etc;
- Contracts – in all oral or written contracts
- Membership in unions or other associations – equal treatment and opportunity to join
The Code is limited to these five areas only. For example, if a stranger on the street harassed you because of your race or gender, this may not be a human rights violation under the Code. You would have to call the police to address an incident like this as it does not fall into one of these five protected areas.
Ground Under the Human Rights Code
Discrimination under the Code is only related to specific characteristics, called “grounds“. You must prove that you were treated badly and differently from others based on one or more of the following:
- place of origin
- ethnic origin
- creed (religion)
- receipt of social assistance (housing situations only)
- sexual orientation
- marital status
- family status
- record of criminal offences (related to employment and you must have been pardoned)
- sex (including pregnancy and sexual harassment)
- gender identity
- gender expression
How Can You File a Human Rights Claim?
Not all bad or unfair treatment is discrimination. If you feel you are being discriminated against and want to file a human rights claim, the following three elements must exist:
- It must fall within one of the five protected areas;
- It must be linked to one or more of the grounds;
- There must be a link between the ground and the discrimination. For example: you are a woman and the only person not given a raise at work. This could be discrimination based on the grounds of sex.
Unfair treatment that does not fall within the Code may be covered by other laws. For example, your employer cuts your hours at work because you complained about not being paid your public holiday pay. Even though your boss’ behaviour is inappropriate and unfair, this may not be a human rights violation, but it could fall under the Employment Standards Act, another Ontario law that protects your rights at work.
Does the Code Cover Harassment and Bullying?
In order to be covered by the Human Rights Code, harassment or bullying must be related to one or more of the grounds of discrimination. For example, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, and harassment of newcomers would be discrimination based on race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin or place of origin. You have to make the link between the harassment and bullying and the grounds.
Workplace harassment and bullying is also addressed in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Under this law, your employer is required to develop workplace harassment policies and procedures to deal with complaints of harassment or violence at work.
Are All Workers Covered by the Code?
The Code covers ALL workers: part-time, casual, a temporary agency worker, contract worker, independent contractor, or even a volunteer. The Code also applies to hiring decisions and workers on probation. Employers cannot avoid their human rights responsibilities by simply calling you “self-employed”. The Code covers most people even if they many not be considered “employees” under other laws, such as the Employment Standards Act.
If you are dealing with a landlord, boss, or service provider who is discriminating against you, know what steps to take to protect yourself:
- take notes – details are important. Write down names, dates, and specific comments or actions that you found discriminatory
- focus on the important issues and don’t get distracted by details that are not relevant to the discrimination
- keep copies of anything that would support the claim, like a contract or emails
- are there any other people who have witnesses the discrimination? Are others being discriminated against or harassed? Talk to people you trust
- if you have talked to a supervisor or boss, write down what was said or done – it could be important to your claim
What happens if I win my case at the Tribunal? There is no guarantee that you will get any personal compensation if you win a human rights case. Each case will be decided on differently and the compensation (“remedy” or “damages” in legal terms) you are rewarded will be specific to your situation.
There are two ways you could be compensated:
- Financial compensation – often called “damages”
- Non-financial compensation – your job may be re-instated, the harasser is removed from your work environment, or a reference letter is given
The Tribunal also has the power to make orders to prevent discrimination from happening in the future. For example, an employer, landlord, service provider, professional association or union could be ordered by the Tribunal to:
- develop or improve human rights policies and procedures;
- display a public sign stating that they are following the Human Rights Code. For example: “we welcome breastfeeding”;
- Order human rights training for all the staff and senior management;
- distribute a copy of the harassment policies to all current and future employees;
- change hiring procedures;
- display information about the Ontario Human Rights Code in a condominium or apartment lobby.
Human Rights Legal Support Centre
Free legal support for people who have experienced discrimination.
Toll free: 1-866-625-5179
TTY Toll Free: 1-866-612-8627
Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
This is where human rights claims are filed and decided. The deadline to file is usually one year from the last incident of discrimination.
Toll Free: 1-866-598-0322
TTY Toll Free: 1-866-607-1240
Canadian Human Rights Commission
The Commission works to promote, protect and advance human rights through research, education, targeted legal action and policy development.
Toll Free: 1-888-214-1090
Ministry of Labour Occupational Health and Safety Branch
For information on workplace violence and harassment.
Toll Free: 1-877-202-0008