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Duty to Prevent Discrimination

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) writes policies to help people understand what types of discrimination are. In addition, these policies outline how to prevent and respond to different forms of discrimination. According to the OHRC’s Policy on Ableism and Discrimination based on disability, organizations have a duty to prevent discrimination. Employers, landlords, and service providers must create environments that discourage discrimination and harassment.

Duty to Prevent Discrimination

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) does not distinguish between intentional or unintentional discrimination. As a result, organizations should develop policies and practices that are welcoming to people of all abilities. Otherwise, they may find that they have discriminated without meaning to.

Similarly, organizations must prevent harassment and poisoned environments, and support any person who has experienced these conditions. The OHRC expects people to be aware that certain comments or actions could be harassment, or poison the environment. Even if someone does not know that harassment has happened, or that the environment is poisoned, they should know. In other words, people in charge of workplaces, housing, or services have the responsibility to know when harassment or discrimination has poisoned their environment. They also have a duty to respond when their environment has been poisoned.

Furthermore, the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code), holds the leaders of an organization responsible for that organization’s discrimination. In other words, leaders of an organization are responsible if workers or agents discriminate or poison an environment. This responsibility is called “vicarious liability”, and liable leaders are called the “directing mind” of the organization. For instance, people who may be responsible for discrimination, as part of an organization’s directing mind, include:

  • Managers
  • Workers responsible for making decisions on behalf of the organization
  • Supervisors
  • Members of bargaining units within unions

Preventing and Responding to Discrimination

Therefore, members of an organization’s directing mind should do everything they can to prevent instances of discrimination or harassment. Likewise, they should also prepare procedures and resources to respond to claims of discrimination or harassment. They should take these claims seriously and respond to them quickly. Similarly, they should stop any ongoing instances of discrimination that they become aware of. Leaders of an organization must show their workers, tenants, and clients that they do not condone any discriminatory or harassing comments or actions that take place within their organization.

In addition, organizational leaders must also create and promote a workplace culture that respects all people. Even if they respond to instances of discrimination, they may still be liable if the workplace culture condones discrimination. As a result, members of an organization’s directing mind should promote behaviour that respects the dignity and equality of all workers, tenants, and clients.

For example, an organization’s leaders should create, implement, and enforce strong anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Moreover, they must also follow the AODA mandate to create and implement policies and plans to remove and prevent accessibility barriers. Finally, organizational leaders should educate themselves, and the workers they supervise, about forms of discrimination and harassment that people may experience. These policies, plans, and training experiences should help all workers recognize and avoid behaviours that discriminate against someone or poison their environment.

In our next article, we will explore how organizational leaders can educate themselves about avoiding discrimination on the basis of disability.