Human Rights Legislation

Important: The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice. If you require legal advice, please consult a lawyer.


Human rights legislation is put in place to protect people from discrimination. It seeks to guarantee people equal treatment regardless of certain identified characteristics called “prohibited grounds of discrimination” that have attracted historical stereotyping or bias in relation to employment.

Employers, including nonprofit organizations, need to be aware of human rights legislation as it applies to all practices of employment, including:

  • Recruitment ads
  • Application forms
  • Interviews
  • Hiring
  • Dismissal/termination
  • Promotion
  • Demotion
  • Benefits
  • Wages
  • Workplace harassment

As organizations strive to create a better world through their missions, it’s important that they also work at creating inclusive workplaces that are respectful and welcoming of diversity. Most of the sites identified in this article have excellent resources and tools that your organization can use in creating policies, in the hiring process, and in building a more diverse and respectful workforce. We encourage you to explore these websites as they offer a wealth of information that can often be applied across provincial/territorial lines.

Prohibited Grounds

The prohibited grounds of discrimination are set out in the human rights legislation of each province/territory. There are some differences between the grounds in different jurisdictions, but they all include the following:

  • Race
  • Ancestry
  • Place Of Origin
  • Colour
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity
  • Gender Expression
  • Age
  • Record Of Offence/Criminal Conviction
  • Marital Status
  • Family Status (Being In A Parent And Child Relationship)
  • Disability.

The prohibited grounds of discrimination under provincial and federal legislation can be viewed in the Human Rights Prohibited Grounds Report (PDF, 146 KB).

Federal legislation

Two pieces of federal legislation set the groundwork for creating workplace diversity and supporting an inclusive workplace:

  • The Employment Equity Act ensures improved job opportunities for four specific groups: women, Aboriginal people, members of visible minorities and people with disabilities.
  • The Canadian Human Rights Act entitles all individuals to equal opportunities without regard to race or colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, family or marital status, sex (including pregnancy or childbirth), pardoned conviction, disability (either physical or mental or as the result of dependence on alcohol or drugs) or sexual orientation.

Provincial and territorial legislation

Practically all nonprofits in Canada fall under provincial/territorial jurisdiction for human rights legislation. Each province/territory has its own human rights legislation. The requirements are similar, but there are some differences.

No Discrimination

Generally, the human rights legislation in each province/territory states that you cannot discriminate against someone on the basis of any of the listed prohibited grounds. Most legislation includes some exceptions to that general prohibition. For example, in a number of jurisdictions you can discriminate because of a prohibited ground if the refusal, limitation, specification or preference is based on a good faith occupational requirement (also known as a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement). Check the requirements for your jurisdiction.

Advertising, Interviewing and Hiring

Human rights legislation applies to both existing employees and prospective employees. Most human rights legislation includes rules for what you can and cannot include in job postings and advertisements, as well as what you can and cannot ask of candidates for employment.

Duty to Accommodate

Human rights legislation also imposes on employers a duty to accommodate. This duty is phrased differently in each jurisdiction, but generally speaking before an employer can refuse to employ or terminate an employee because the employee is unable to perform their duties due to a disability, the employer must try to accommodate the employee to the point of undue hardship. This means that an employer may be required to incur some expenses or make other adjustments to accommodate the employee. If you have questions about your duty to accommodate or need more information on the scope of your duty to accommodate, you should consult a lawyer. These can be complicated issues.

Pay Equality and Transparency

Pay equality and transparency are important human rights issues. The adoption of hiring practices that are fair, equitable, and conscious of systemic barriers that unfairly impact members of equity-seeking groups is of vital importance for employers, especially for nonprofit sector employers who seek to support these communities. Being open and clear about the salary range offered through a job posting is one of the first steps toward ensuring greater pay equity for all staff regardless of identity.

Pay equality and transparency aren’t just best practices, they are also legally required in many jurisdictions. Every province has pay equality requirements, although those requirements are found in different legislation. Depending on the province, those requirements are found in either employment standards or human rights legislation. Federally, they are found in the Pay Equity Act (note that several provinces have pay equity legislation as well). Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have pay transparency provisions in their employment standards legislation and the Federal Employment Equity Act includes pay transparency requirements.

Links and resources

Many human rights agencies across Canada have developed fact sheets, guides and policies in regard to human rights issues.


British Columbia


New Brunswick

Newfoundland and Labrador

Northwest Territories

Nova Scotia



Prince Edward Island




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