Employment equity (Canada)

Employment equity (Canada)

Employment equity, as defined in Canadian law by the Employment Equity Act, requires employers to engage in proactive employment practices to increase the representation of four designated groups: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities.[1] The Act states that "employment equity means more than treating persons the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences."[2]

The Act requires that employers remove barriers to employment that disadvantage members of the four designated groups. Examples of employment barriers are wheelchair inaccessible buildings, that create a physical barrier to people with disabilities, or practices that make some people feel uncomfortable, such as holding management meetings in strip clubs. The term reasonable accommodation is often used for the removal of such barriers to employment. Employers are also required to institute positive policies and practices for the hiring, training, retention and promotion of members of the designated groups. Positive policies include good hiring practices, for example, asking all job candidates the same interview questions, or advertising a job widely and in places where it is likely to reach female or minority applicants.



The roots of employment equity are in the 1984 Abella Commission, chaired by Judge Rosalie Abella. She considered the US term, affirmative action, but decided not to use that term because of the emotions and ill will surrounding affirmative action.[3] In its place she created the term “employment equity” for the Canadian context. Judge Abella’s report later became the foundation of the Employment Equity Act of 1986, later amended as the Employment Equity Act of 1995. The purpose of the Act, as stated in the legislation itself, is:

The purpose of this Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfillment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.[2]

Designated groups

The Employment Equity Act designates four groups as the beneficiaries of employment equity:[1]

1) Women

2) People with disabilities

3) Aboriginal people, a category consisting of Status Indians, Non-status Indians, Métis (people of mixed French-Aboriginal ancestry in western Canada), and Inuit (the Aboriginal people of the Arctic).

4) Visible minorities


The Employment Equity Act is federal legislation, and as such, applies only to certain industries that are federally regulated under the Canadian constitution, namely banks, broadcasters, telecommunication companies, railroads, airlines, maritime transportation companies, other transportation companies if inter-provincial in nature, uranium-related organizations, federal crown corporations (companies where the federal government owns the majority of shares), and corporations controlled by two or more provincial governments.[4] A 2001 review estimated that 10% of the Canadian workforce was covered by federal employment equity legislation.[5] Thus the scope of the Employment Equity Act is quite limited, and the vast majority of employers, including nearly all retailers and manufacturing companies, fall outside its jurisdiction.

The Canadian federal government also administers the Federal Contractors’ Program (FCP). This is not part of the Employment Equity Act, but rather is a non-legislated program that extends employment equity to organizations beyond the scope of the Act.[6] The FCP states that suppliers of goods and services to the federal government (with some specified exceptions) must have an employment equity program in place.

Some provinces use the term employment equity in conjunction with their enforcement of provincial-level human rights legislation (for example, British Columbia[7]), but no province has a law that is an analogue to the federal Employment Equity Act. The government of Quebec requires that employers show preference to people with disabilities, which could be considered a form of employment equity legislation.[8]

Regulatory oversight

Oversight of employment equity is shared among three federal government agencies. For private sector employers that are federally regulated, Human Resources and Social Development Canada collects data from employers and conducts research related to the Employment Equity Act.[1] The Treasury Board Secretariat oversees the administration of employment equity in the federal government itself. The Canadian Human Rights Commission deals with both private and public sector employers that are federally regulated, and is responsible for conducting audits of employers' compliance.

In addition to the above, Human Resources and Social Development Canada is responsible for oversight of the Federal Contractors' Program.[1]


Employment equity is surrounded with controversy, as has occurred with similar programs in the US and other countries. Opponents of employment equity argue that it violates common-sense notions of fairness and equality.[9] University of Saskatchewan economists Cristina Echavarria and Mobinul Huq argue that employment equity should be redesigned so that employers are required to remove barriers to men applying for female-dominated jobs, as well as barriers to women applying for male-dominated jobs.[10] On the other hand, proponents argue that employment equity is necessary to amend historic wrongs and to ameliorate the economic differences among groups.[11][12] A particular point of contention has been the category visible minorities, which lumps together numerous ethnic groups, some of which are affluent and some of which are severely disadvantaged.[13][14][15]

In July 2010, controversy arose when a Caucasian woman, Sara Landriault, was barred from applying for employment in a federal agency because she was not in a racial minority.[16] This incident led Stockwell Day, president of the Treasury Board of Canada, which oversees federal government employment policies, to announce a review of 'affirmative action' (employment equity) and how it is applied in federal hiring procedures.[16]

As of October 2010, there has been no sign of Affirmative Action reviewed and Sara Landriault was never allowed to re-apply for the position in Immigration Canada.

Distinct from other human rights concepts

The Canadian Human Rights Act has long prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, and certain other grounds.[17] The Canadian Human Rights Act continues to be in force alongside the Employment Equity Act. The key distinction between the two laws is that the Canadian Human Rights Act merely prohibits discrimination, whereas the Employment Equity Act requires employers to engage in proactive measures to improve the employment opportunities of the four specific groups listed above.[1] Note that the Canadian Human Rights Act protects a wider range of minorities (such as sexual minorities and religious minorities), while the Employment Equity Act limits its coverage to the aforementioned four protected groups. In Canada, employment equity is a specific legal concept, and should not be used as a synonym for non-discrimination or workplace diversity.

Employment equity should not be confused with pay equity, which is an entirely distinct concept.[18][19] Pay equity, as a Canadian legal term, refers to the legal requirement that predominantly female occupations be paid the same as predominantly male occupations of equal importance within a given organization.

One way of understanding the distinction between employment equity and pay equity (comparable worth) is to note that they take different approaches to dealing with the problem of predominantly female occupations being underpaid. Employment equity aims to increase the number of women in well-paid occupations. In contrast, pay equity implicitly recognizes how difficult it is to break down gender barriers in the workforce, and instead aims to increase the pay of predominantly female occupations. Employment equity also addresses the situation of Aboriginal people, visible minorities, and people with disabilities, whereas pay equity addresses solely the dilemma that predominantly female occupations tend to be underpaid.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "Frequently Asked Questions on Employment Equity". Canadian Human Rights Commission. 2009-08-27. http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/publications/ee_faq_ee-en.asp. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  2. ^ a b Employment Equity Act (1995, c. 44) Act current to April 16th, 2010
  3. ^ Abella, R. S. (1984). Report of the Commission on Equality in Employment. Ottawa: Government of Canada. ISBN 0660117363. http://epe.lac-bac.gc.ca/100/200/301/pco-bcp/commissions-ef/abella1984-eng/abella1984-eng.htm 
  4. ^ "Federally Regulated Businesses and Industries". Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. 2008-03-19. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/labour/employment_standards/regulated.shtml. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  5. ^ Human Resources and Social Development Canada. "Employment Equity Act Review". http://www.rhdcc-hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/lo/lswe/we/review/report/main.shtml#4_1. Retrieved 6 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Federal Contractors' Program. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. 2003-05-07. ISBN 0662554272. http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/lo/lswe/we/programs/fcp/index-we.shtml. Retrieved 2009-08-07 
  7. ^ British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, http://www.bchrt.bc.ca (within that website, look under the topic "Special Programs")
  8. ^ Neal, Christopher (1982-09-02). "Major Firms Told to Draft Hiring Plans for Disabled". The Gazette (Montreal) (Southam Inc.): pp. D12. 
  9. ^ Burke, R. J., & Black, S. (1997). "Save the males: Backlash in organizations". Journal of Business Ethics 16 (9): 933–942. doi:10.1023/A:1017991421416. ISSN 0167-4544 
  10. ^ Echevarria, Cristina; Mobinul Huq (2001). "Redesigning Employment Equity in Canada: The Need to Include Men". Canadian Public Policy 27 (1): 53–64. doi:10.2307/3552373. http://economics.ca/cgi/jab?journal=cpp&article=v27n1p0053. 
  11. ^ Agocs, Carol (2002). "Canada's employment equity legislation and policy, 1987-2000: The gap between policy and practice". International Journal of Manpower 23 (3): 256–276. doi:10.1108/01437720210432220. ISSN 0143-7720 
  12. ^ Jain, H. C., & Lawler, J. J. (2004). "Visible minorities under the Canadian Employment Equity Act, 1987-1999". Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 59 (3): 585–611. ISSN 0034-379X. http://www.erudit.org/revue/RI/2004/v59/n3/010926ar.html 
  13. ^ Hum, D., & Simpson, W. (September 1, 1999). "Wage opportunities for visible minorities in Canada" (PDF). Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques 25 (3): 379–394. doi:10.2307/3551526. ISSN 0317-0861. JSTOR 3551526. http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/arts/economics/simpson/WageOpp.pdf 
  14. ^ Mentzer, M. S., & Fizel, J. L. (1992). "Affirmative action and ethnic inequality in Canada: The impact of the Employment Equity Act of 1986". Ethnic Groups 9 (4): 203–217. ISSN 0308-6860 
  15. ^ Swidinsky, R., & Swidinsky, M. (2002). "The relative earnings of visible minorities in Canada: New evidence from the 1996 census". Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations 57: 630–659. ISSN 0034-379X 
  16. ^ a b Friesen, Joe (2010-07-22). "Tories take aim at employment equity". The Globe and Mail (Toronto) (CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.). http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tories-take-aim-at-employment-equity/article1649115/. Retrieved 2010-08-04. 
  17. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions About the Canadian Human Rights Act". Canadian Human Rights Commission. 2008-07-25. http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/faq/page3-en.asp. Retrieved 2010-04-14. 
  18. ^ "Overview: Resolving Disputes: Pay Equity". Canadian Human Rights Commission. 2008-04-08. http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/DisputeResolution_ReglementDifferends/payequity_paritesalariale-en.asp. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
  19. ^ "About Pay Equity". Ontario Pay Equity Commission / Queen's Printer for Ontario. 2005-01-06. http://www.payequity.gov.on.ca/peo/english/rights/rights_pe.html. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 

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