Woman employee at work

What is Canada’s Employment Equity Act?

In July 2021, the Liberal government announced that they were convening a new task force to review the Employment Equity Act. The Act was created in 1986 to help break down barriers and inequities that could prevent Canadians from getting access to employment. The new task force will put a focus on reviewing the Act to ensure that there is fairness, diversity, and equality when it comes to Canadians having employment opportunities.

In its original form, the Employment Equity Act applies to private-sector employers who have 100 or more employees. The Act also has a specific focus on four groups of people that may be underrepresented in the workplace — women, aboriginal people, people with disabilities, and people of visible minorities. Aboriginal people include non-status Indians, status Indians, Inuit, or Métis. People with disabilities include those who may have a physical, mental, learning, or sensory impairment. Visible minorities are those who may be discriminated against based on the color of their skin or their nationality.

The Employment Equity Act in its current form has proponents and opponents. Proponents of the Act say that this helps maintain employment equity amongst organizations where otherwise it may not be prevalent. Opponents of the Act, on the other hand, say that the rule violates the fairness of who may be the best fit for a job. Some people also believe that the Act should be more strict and that it also violates the Canadian Human Rights Act which says no one should be discriminated against based upon their gender, race, ethnicity, or other grounds.

Currently, if an employer is found that they are in violation of the Employment Equity Act, they can be fined up to $10,000 for a one-time violation. If an employer is found to have violated the Act more than once, they can be fined up to $50,000.

How is Equity Determined?

Equity is determined through several factors including:

  • Decision Making and Authority — are people of the underrepresented groups in positions in the company where they have the authority or decision-making capabilities? If managers or executives in the company all have the same physical and mental characteristics, then the company could be in violation of the Employment Equity Act.
  • Employment Conditions — are the conditions at the workplace favorable for all workers? Does the company have a place where a new mother is able to pump milk? Having conditions that are welcoming to all employees makes the work environment more comfortable for everyone.
  • Job Security and Tenure — What is the turnover rate at the company? Is it a constant revolving door or do employees continue to work at the job for many years? It’s important to look at upper management too — note how long those employees have been with the company and talk to other employees about their thoughts about staying with the company long-term.
  • Occupational Distribution — Look at who is in what roles in the company. Is there a good distribution of power? Are there people who have been traditionally under-represented at the workplace? For example, when you think of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields there is usually an underrepresentation of women — if your employer is in a STEM field, do you see women in the workplace?
  • Pay and Benefits —Are the pay and benefits equal among employees who work in the same position? Or, do you notice certain employees are getting paid more or less compared to other coworkers who work the same position?
  • Representation Rates — Look at the entire company and who is represented throughout the organization. Do you see a variety of traits throughout the company or only notice one set of traits within upper-level management or elsewhere throughout the company?

What’s Next?

Depending on what is determined by the task force, it will be critical for employers and employees to take note of what changes could be enforced with the Employment Equity Act. For employers, in particular, it will be important to see what changes will have to be made in the workplace and what consequences could be implemented if those changes aren’t made. For employees, it’s also important to be aware of what changes are made to see if their employer will make adjustments if the employer is not compliant. The task force is expected to have a report ready by early 2022.

Contact Guardian Law Group LLP

If your employer is currently not upholding regulations from the Employment Equity Act, or does not follow the new guidelines once they are released, that’s when you need to contact Guardian Law Group LLP. Our lawyers are here for you and will work hard to bring justice to your claim. Contact our office using our online form or by calling us at (403) 457-7778.