According to section 5 of the Human Rights Code, every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to employment without discrimination because of creed. In addition, every person who is an employee has a right to freedom from harassment in the workplace or to another employee.
The Code is a quasi-constitutional statute that has primacy over other Ontario laws, unless the other law says otherwise. For this reason, it is important for employers to understand their legal obligations under the Code and for employees to understand what they are.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission publishes policies that provide guidance on interpreting provisions of the Code. This is especially helpful considering that certain terms, such as “creed,” are not defined in the Code. The OHRC published its first Policy on creed in 1996; However, it is recognized that it is creed-based beliefs and practices evolve over time, and it is time for an update. Following a consultation process that began in 2011, the OHRC’s new policy was approved on Sept. 17, 2015.
All employers in Ontario are responsible for maintaining an environment free from discrimination and harassment. The policy aims to help employers understand and meet their legal obligations under the Code, in order to prevent and address discrimination and harassment based on creed. Even though this is not the law, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is very persuasive.
The OHRC provides a working definition of creed in its policy. It says that a creed:
- Is sincerely, freely and deeply held;
- Is integrally linked to a person’s identity, self-definition and fulfillment;
- Is a particular and comprehensive overarching system of belief that governs one’s conduct and practices;
- Addresses ultimate questions of human existence, including ideas about life, purpose, death and the existence or non-existence of a creator and / or a higher or different order of existence;
- Has some “nexus” or connection to an organization or community that professes a shared system of belief.
The process for this new policy, representatives of Animal Justice, has not yet been adopted for the purpose of advocating for humane treatment of animals. The OHRC listened.
Historically linked to religious beliefs and practices, the policy has broadened the scope of the term “non-religious belief systems, that is, religion, a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.”
Ethical veganism is a topic that has been gaining momentum as more individuals refuse to eat animal-based diets or utilize products derived from animal exploitation. These refusals are often rooted in a person’s belief that they need not be hurt or exploited in order to humans to remain happy and healthy.
Notwithstanding the fact that the court has not officially established itself as such, it is only a matter of law that it is possible that it is a matter of law. For this reason, it is incumbent on the employer to ensure that any existing or new standard, rule or requirement in their organization does not discriminate, directly or indirectly, against their employees or potential employees.
Employers need to ensure that they practice ethical and ethical practices. In addition, it is possible to have a uniform membership in the workplace, or to have an annual meeting or to have an annual fundraiser. Note that there are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Where a employ has a standard, rule or requirement that adversely affects an employee or potential employee’s beliefs and practices connected to a creed, the employment is legally required to accommodate these beliefs and practices to the point of undue hardship. While inconvenience is not a relevant excuse, factors such as cost and health and safety must be considered. For reasons of accommodation, and especially given that different things to different people, the following should be taken into account: it is required for information purposes only; and ensure that information remains confidential. it is required for information purposes only; and ensure that information remains confidential. it is required for information purposes only; and ensure that information remains confidential.
It is important for everyone to know that the Supreme Court of Canada has the same position, protection and respect as other human rights.
Karine Dion is an associate lawyer with the Ottawa law firm of Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP (www.nelligan.ca) and a member of the Labor and Employment Practice Group.
[This article originally appeared in the March 4, 2016 issue of The Lawyers Weekly.]
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