Discrimination in the workplace is not only illegal, but it’s a very difficult and intricate thing to deal with. It’s also something that needs to be faced head-on and dealt with right away to preserve the safety and human rights of all employees and coworkers.
But first, what exactly is discrimination? Discrimination is defined by the Canadian Human Rights Commission as an action or a decision that treats a person or group negatively for reasons such as their race, age or disability. These reasons are known as grounds of discrimination. The following grounds are protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act:
- National or ethnic origin
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Family status
- A conviction for which a pardon has been granted or a record suspended
Here are a few tips on what to do if you suspect discrimination in the workplace:
Reiterate what discrimination is
Oftentimes, what is considered to be discrimination and what is not can be murky or unclear to the victim and/or other parties. Send out a team email or written policy or poster to let employees know what discrimination is and that it will not be tolerated in the workplace. You can use material from the Canadian Human Rights Commission here. If you remind employees what falls under discrimination, they are more likely to watch for it and report it if it’s happening.
Sometimes, especially in serious matters, you just need to ask. If you suspect that an employee or co-worker is being discriminated against for any reason, you need to ask them. Explain to this person that what is happening to them is not only wrong—it’s illegal. Also stress that nothing can be done if no one knows about the situation.
Prepare to take action
Discrimination is a serious offense. As an employer you have to be prepared to take investigative and disciplinary action should you find that this is happening within your workplace. If you do nothing, your employees can assume that:
- You don’t care about their wellbeing
- You value the person(s) who has committed the offense more than others
- Discrimination is acceptable to you/in your workplace
- You like to avoid confrontation
When investigating claims of discrimination, it’s imperative that you are thorough in gathering and documenting evidence and testimonies, but also respectful to the privacy of all parties involved. Only involve those necessary and give them updates specific to what effects them only. If you find the claims are substantiated, take appropriate corrective action. Corrective action could range from sensitivity training to termination, depending on the severity of the discriminatory actions.
As an employee, if you are being discriminated against, you have to go forward and tell HR, or your supervisor or manager. Nothing can be done to stop it if no one knows it is happening. If you discover that a co-worker is being discriminated against, similarly you should report it to HR or management.
To learn more about discrimination both in and out of the workplace, please visit the Canadian Human Rights Commission website.