Ontario Human Rights Code: Frequently Asked Questions

The Ontario Human Rights Code (Code) is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination, harassment and reprisal with respect to employment, trade, self-governing profession, services, good, contracts and facilities.

Under the Code, you have responsibility to ensure the work environment is healthy and inclusive, and to prevent and address discrimination and harassment. You also have a legal duty to accommodate your employees up to undue hardship.

The Prohibited Grounds of Discrimination are:

  • gender expression
  • gender identity
  • marital status
  • place of origin
  • race
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

What are my employee’s rights to equal treatment in the workplace?

The Ontario Human Rights protects persons in all aspects of employment, including:

  • applying for a job, recruitment, training
  • transfers, promotions, terms of apprenticeship
  • dismissals, layoffs and terminations.

It also covers: rate of pay, codes of conduct, overtime, hours of work, holidays, benefits, shift work, performance evaluations and discipline.

What can I do to meet my legal obligations?

Per your obligations under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, you should have a workplace violence and harassment policy. In addition, you should have a program which outlines your investigative process.

Having a “No Discrimination Policy & Program”

Having a “no discrimination policy and program” is a great way to set the expectations of the workplace and establish an internal complaint process for employees who believe they have been subjected to discrimination.

Can I terminate an employee that is sick or disabled?

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employees who are sick have rights and you are required to accommodate an employee unless this would result in undue hardship. When faced with an employee who is requesting accommodation, choosing to simply layoff or terminate the employee is not an option. This is a big mistake that can result in very expensive litigation.

Termination should be based on performance and not influenced by illness, injury or accident because of Human Rights. If you are ever faced with a termination that may include a Human Rights component, we strongly advise to contact a lawyer at your earliest convenience.

Disability Management Program

Consider establishing a disability management program. This program focus on absences from work as a result of an illness, injury or disability and on preventing the risks that cause these absences. It establishes a procedure for you to follow in each case so you have satisfied the procedural duty to accommodate. It contains three (3) components; prevention, support for recovery and accommodation.

Are there any government programs that can help my employee?

  • The Government of Canada provides Employment Insurance program called EI Sick Benefits that allows employees up to 15 weeks of temporary financial assistance.
  • The Government of Canada, through the Canada Pension Plan Disability, provide benefits to disabled individuals that cannot work at any job on regular basis.
  • Through the Ontario government, an employee can be eligible for the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Are there any legal support for my business?:

Law Society of Canada

  • If you require legal assistance on protecting your business, you can speak to the Law Society: https://lsrs.lsuc.on.ca/lsrs/ as they provide up to 30 minutes of free talk time.

Northbridge Insurance

  • CFIB’s newest Privilege Program with Northbridge Insurance offers complimentary legal advice for 12 months when requesting an insurance quote. To know more, please click here and or contact our Privilege Program Specialists by calling CFIB at 1-888-234-2232.

Read more:

Discrimination based on disability and the duty to accommodate: Information for employers:

What is a disability?

Duty to accommodate

OHRC policy position on medical documentation to be provided when a disability-related accommodation request is made

Managing performance and discipline

CFIB resources:

CFIB web post - Human Rights compliance: the three templates every small business needs

Your HR A-Z toolkit for policies and procedures