Is “Canadian experience” requirement discriminatory?

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It’s becoming less common for job listings to specify Canadian experience, but the attitude is still pervasive in Canadian companies, but is it discriminatory?

“A strict requirement for “Canadian experience” is prima facie discrimination (discrimination on its face) and can only be used in very limited circumstances,” a new report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) said. “The onus will be on employers and regulatory bodies to show that a requirement for prior work experience in Canada is a bona fide requirement.”

The practice is often the result of unconscious biases according to the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council learning initiatives manager Rose DeVeyra.

“Often employers don’t realize it is a form of discrimination,” DeVeyra told HRM. “It’s usually an unconscious bias towards someone with Canadian experience. The best way to address it is to surface the bias.”

While business used to be regionally focused, these days a diverse team can be an advantage in dealing with a diverse supplier and customer base.

“The risk as an employer is that you’re screening out people who could possibly be better candidates for the job,” DeVeyra said.

An easy change to make in your process is to have an employee who won’t be directly involved in making a hiring decision mask names and other details on resumes. By covering all names, locations and dates you allow those doing the hiring to focus on skills and experience.

“When the person screening looks for very specific examples of that competency, then the focus is on what the person has to offer rather than who the person is,” DeVeyra said.

There are also free websites for checking the validity of foreign educational institutions, which can help confirm credentials.

Labour and employment lawyer Lia Chiarotto, from Heenan Blaikie, said  that while the Commission’s policy is not law, the Commission’s policy was consistent with Canadian case law.

According to Chiarotto, employers should keep in mind the following to avoid violating human rights legislation:

  • Do not require Canadian job experience in a job posting or ad, or ask for qualifications that could only be obtained by working in Canada.
  • Be clear about the specific qualifications and experience you are seeking instead of using catch-all terms like “Canadian experience”.
  • Only ask about job-related qualifications (e.g., communication skills, ability to manage projects, familiarity with Canadian industry standards, etc.).
  • Assess  candidates on an individual basis  and consider all relevant work experience regardless of where it was obtained.
  • Do not make assumptions about the quality of work experience gained outside of Canada.  In particular, do not discount or devalue foreign work experience.  Find out about the candidate’s job-related skills and qualifications.
  • Use objective and standardized criteria when choosing candidates to minimize the chances that discrimination will play a role in selection.
  • Be prepared to show how you chose the successful applicant.
  • Sean Nethercott on 2013-07-23 1:46:23 PM

    The only consequence of this will be that instead of rejecting candidates because of lack of Canadian experience it will be for some other reason .... Since hiring is entirely subjective anyway.

  • Harold Sahadeo on 2013-07-23 7:53:47 PM

    Mr. Nethercott could not be further from the truth. The consequence can be severe if someone files a discrimination complaint. While the Applicant must have "prima facie" evidence, the respondent must show "bona fide" reasons for its decision. Lost wages and general damages can be assessed among other remedies.

  • SP on 2014-02-11 4:25:51 PM

    Why is Canadian working experience different than that of US, for example in engineering?
    Moreover, born and raised in Canada, Canadians are never being asked such question.

  • Joanne on 2014-02-17 10:33:47 AM

    Many, many years ago I was new immigrant and was very frustrated when I was looking for a job as an Executive Assistant as they kept asking for "Canadian Experience". Finally I asked the interviewer a couple of my own questions. 1. How do you file, do you do it by A to Z? Remarkably the answer was yes and my response to that was "well so do I". How do you count, 1 to 100 and above? Again the remarkable answer was yes and again my response was "so do I, so why do I need Canadian Experience? If I had been working with money then perhaps I would have needed Canadian Experience as the money I was familiar with was not dollars and cents. Anyway I got the job. As time went by my boss told me I was one of the best hires he had done.

  • Shazia on 2014-02-22 9:22:56 PM

    I really fail to understand how is it different working in Unilever, Young and Rubicam, Pepsi and Weber Shandwick for example, in other parts of the world than Canadian market?? Are those working in these organisations in Canada more qualified than the ones who come from other parts of the globe? May be not; may be they are professionally and academically stronger that creates job insecurity for those less qualified at the helm in these multinationals in Canada and thus this ridiculous excuse: "You lack Canadian experiece."

  • sean nethercott on 2016-05-09 1:13:45 PM

    There are three things people need to do to get a job - they need to know hoe to do the job, they need to actually want to do the job, and they need to fit into the existing team effectively.
    The challenges in trying to legislate compliance around who and why we hire who we do is that these measures are mostly subjective.
    Can someone from another country do the job - maybe, but there often large differences in both content, training and culture in the workplace that are picked up in the interview process.
    Sure someone can file a complaint or sue for discrimination, but its ignoring the fundamental problem which is as a hiring manager you want to hire someone who will add to your team and work out - that may be someone new to Canada or someone born here, but its got to be up to you to find out in the interview process.
    I don't want to say that "Canadian Experience" is an excuse, but I have hired people new to
    Canada and they have worked out great, others have not - similarly Canadians have done the same - so it is not what you need to focus on when looking for work - try to answer the three issues the employer has and you will find the right job fast.

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