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Know Your Rights

Employee Rights in the Workplace

Employees have basic rights in Canadian workplaces including the right to fair treatment and to work in a safe and healthy workplace. These, and other rights, are protected by law. Whether you are working in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada or in another country, research human rights and employment laws that pertain to that jurisdiction and know your rights.

The following list provides key legislative pieces that pertain to employment opportunities in Ontario:

Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits actions during the application process and as an employee that discriminate against people based on a protected ground in a protected social area, which includes employment.

Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA) covers issues like pay, work hours, public holidays and time off.

Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out the rights and duties of workers, supervisors and employers in keeping workplaces safe and healthy.

Interviewing: Know Your Rights

The Human Rights Commission in each province has clear guidelines on interview questions which are prohibited and also known as ‘illegal’ questions. Laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on areas such as disability, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, age, religious affiliation, national origin and ethnic background.

There are exceptions to these guidelines based on special service organizations. For example, a women’s rape crisis centre is hiring counsellors and requires counsellors who are female.

The focus of the interview questions should be based on what the employer needs to know to decide whether you can perform the essential functions on the job and whether you are a qualified candidate. When the employer asks questions related to prohibited areas, use discretion when responding. 

Some Examples of Prohibited Questions:

  • Do you have any disabilities or medical conditions?
  • How many sick days did you have last year? Were you hospitalized?
  • Are you Canadian?
  • Where is your accent from?
  • Are you planning on starting a family?

Permissible Questions:

  • Are you eligible to work in Canada?
  • Can you start at 7:30 and work overtime if necessary?
  • Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?
  • Can you perform the essential functions of the job?

Note: After a conditional job offer has been made, the applicant may be required to have a medical examination.

Options for Responding to a Prohibited Question:

Prohibited questions that are asked in interviews are often not intended to be offensive. An inexperienced interviewer may have not realized the question was inappropriate.

If you are asked an inappropriate question, you have a few options:

  1. Examine the question for intent and respond with an answer as it might apply to performing the job. For example, if you are asked about citizenship, your reply may be to answer “Do you want to know if I am eligible to work in Canada? Yes, I am.”
  2. Answer the question. You may answer the question as asked, and offer as much information that you are comfortable with, but be aware that you may inadvertently reveal more information than you intended.
  3. Refuse to answer the question: A strategy is to ask the interviewer how the information he/she is seeking is relevant to the position. You are within your rights to not answer the question, but you may appear defensive and uncooperative to the interviewer. It is important to be tactful with your reply as the interviewer may not have even realized that the question he/she asked was inappropriate.
For more information, visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission.