Driving Diversity: What To Do If You Encounter Discrimination In The Workplace


Over the last few years, more and more employers have become active supporters of diversity initiatives, creating and launching innovative programs to support the needs of a changing workforce.

However, if you do encounter some form of discrimination during your work experience, you should know how to identify it and figure out your next steps. Many students and young professionals enter the workforce without knowing their basic equality rights, which is important knowledge for everyone to have.

If you’re ever in a situation where you feel you might be being treated unfairly, here’s what you need to know to take action!

Identifying Discrimination

Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 15

First off, you need to know your rights. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms essentially states that everyone has the right to equality and to be free from discrimination. No one should be denied opportunities on the basis of who they are, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. What does this mean? Well, two equally skilled employees should both have a fair chance at career growth opportunities – things like promotions or leadership of a new project – without any kind of personal bias at play.

Is it valid?

Do you think you’ve been subjected to an act of discrimination? This is a very serious situation so you want to be sure before you file an official complaint. There are three aspects that need to be present for a valid discrimination complaint:

  • A ground of discrimination is a reason for why a person is treated unfairly. It’s usually rooted in who the person is, such as gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
  • A discriminatory practice refers to how a person is discriminated against. It becomes prohibited when the act is done based on a ground of discrimination.
  • The act itself has to have a negative effect on you. For example, if you’re denied a career growth opportunity or alienated from your co-workers because of discrimination.
Tip: Keep in mind that the complaint must also be filed within a year of the incident for it to stand in court. While this is certainly not a decision to take lightly, you also don’t want to wait around too long.

Filing a Human Rights Complaint

Complaint Form

If you have identified that you have indeed been a victim of discrimination, and you want to take action, you’ll need to file a human rights complaint. However, the complaint form isn’t openly available for just anyone to access.

There are three ways that you can obtain this form:

  • The online complaint assessment tool is a great option to use first, especially if you’re not entirely sure you’ve got a valid complaint on your hands.
  • If you want to contact  the Canadian Human Rights Commission, you can do so through writing and mailing a letter to the Commission. This method is great if you are looking to address a matter that isn’t time-sensitive.
  • You can also contact the Canadian Human Rights Commission through telephone if you want a more immediate connection or prefer to speak to someone verbally.

What You Need to Know

Before you dive headfirst into this process, remember that filing a human rights complaint can be a long process – it can stretch out for years. However, the results can be extremely freeing for both yourself and other employees who find themselves in similar positions. In fact, through taking action, you may prevent numerous other minority employees from experiencing discrimination in the future.

Learn more: This procedure can be a bit daunting, so make sure you educate yourself about it as much as possible beforehand. You can find an in-depth overview of the process here.

Find Support From Your Allies

Employee resource groups can provide amazing emotional support when you’re fighting against discrimination. These fellow members are all passionate about the same issues you are and will stand by you during your battle. Just like you, they also want to help drive change in the workplace.

Legal centres work to help individuals who have experienced discrimination navigate through this process. They generally work within provinces, so do a quick internet search to find yours. For example, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre resides within Ontario, and the BC Human Rights Clinic operates in British Columbia.

YOU! That’s right – you need to be an ally to yourself. Be proud of your individuality and stand up for who you are. Your confidence will make your uniqueness translate as a positive attribute, helping others see that diversity is not something to be ashamed of!

If you’re ever a victim of discrimination, think twice about just brushing it off. Letting a few “small incidents” slip by is how people get away with bringing their personal biases into the workplace. Make it known that discrimination is never welcome and focus on fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for everybody.

Want to learn more about diversity in the workplace? Check out our Diversity Career Guide!