Transgender employees protected under new Ontario human rights bill

Transgender employees protected under new Ontario human rights bill

Ontario is the first jurisdiction in North America, other than the Northwest Territories, to include gender identity and gender expression in its anti-discrimination legislation. This news cam ahead of celebrations for Pride Week Toronto.

“The passage of Toby’s Act is another reason to celebrate at Pride,” says New Democratic Party of Canada MPP Cheri DiNovo, who introduced the bill. “I can’t imagine a better victory party to celebrate five years of hard work, and a new era of protection and equality for trans people in Ontario.”

The code currently guards against prejudice for “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

The term “transgendered” is not included in either the Proposed Amendment or the existing Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”).  However, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, one of the Proposed Amendment’s principal advocates, has stated that the term “transgendered”:

describes individuals who are not comfortable with, or who reject, in whole or in part, their birth assigned gender identities.  The word transgendered is generally viewed as an umbrella term that unifies people who identify as transsexual, transgenderist, intersexed, transvestite or as a cross-dresser.

Research shows up to 60% of transgender workers experience employment discrimination, however many companies now include transgender or transsexual employees in their antidiscrimination policies, and now those policies are back up with legislation.

Gender identity is linked to an individual’s intrinsic sense of self and, particularly the sense of being male or female.  Gender identity may or may not conform to a person's birth-assigned sex.

Workers with these types of complaints could already take claims to the tribunal on the grounds of sex, so an employer’s responsibilities have not changed, says Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti associate Lauren Chang MacLean. However, awareness may now increase.

“Employers may not have known before that they couldn’t not hire someone because they were a transsexual,” Chang MacLean says. “With the codification and the attention surrounding it more employers might understand their responsibilities.”

Discrimination could be anything from choosing to hire someone based on their gender identity or expression, to treating them differently because of how they dress, or failing to accommodate any needs they might have.

Most workplaces find accommodating transgender people a “non-issue”, according to the Empire State Pride Foundation.

“Many policymakers fear that a transgender non-discrimination law will lead to uncomfortable and unwieldy experiences related to bathroom use by employees, or even a prohibition on gender-specific multi-stalled bathrooms,” a foundation spokesperson says. "However, the experience of employers has been that such bathroom issues are easily managed.”







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