If an employer discriminates against you in a way that goes against Ontario's human rights laws, you might be able to make a claim against the employer. You do this with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
The Tribunal could order the employer to pay you money or give you a job. But they don't usually order the employer to give you back your job if you were fired.
Discrimination that is against human rights laws
Employers aren't allowed to discriminate for reasons that go against human rights laws.
This means that, in most cases, an employer can't decide not to hire you, treat you unfairly, or fire you because of:
- your race, colour, ancestry, ethnic origin, citizenship, or where you were born
- your religious beliefs
- a physical or mental disability, including an addiction
- having children, planning to have children, or being pregnant
- your marital status, for example, married, divorced, single, or living common-law
- your sex or gender
- your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression
- your age if you are at least 18
- being convicted of a crime if you have a pardon or record suspension
Rules that discriminate
Some employers say they have rules that apply to everyone. But this might be discrimination if the reason you can't meet the rules goes against your human rights.
For example, an employer might have a dress code that applies to everyone. But they might have to let you dress differently if you wear something for religious reasons.
The deadline to apply to the Tribunal is one year from the date you were discriminated against.
If you miss the deadline, you can still apply. But in your application, you need to explain why you're applying late. If you have a good reason, for example, you couldn't apply because you were in the hospital, the Tribunal can decide to let you apply late.
Most employers in Ontario must follow the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario deals with complaints against these employers.
But some industries are covered by federal laws. These are laws made by the Government of Canada and they apply throughout the country. These industries include banks, airlines, some trucking businesses, and broadcasting. The Government of Canada website has a more complete list.
Employers in these industries must follow the Canada Labour Code. The Canadian Human Rights Commission deals with complaints against these employers.
The information in the steps below is about claims under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
If you think an employer discriminated against you, you can get free legal advice and information from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.
The Centre can help you figure out:
- whether to make a claim with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
- what might help you prove that an employer discriminated against you
The Centre also helps people when they apply to the Tribunal and, in some cases, at the Tribunal.
You can also check out the Centre's online tool Can We Help You? to see if you might be able to make a claim.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario can decide if an employer has discriminated against you. You start the process by filing an application with the Tribunal. The Tribunal has an Applicant's Guide with detailed instructions.
In your application, you say why you think the employer's actions are against your human rights.
Say what happened
Explain how the employer discriminated against you. Include details about each time something happened, saying:
- where things happened
- when things happened
- who was involved
Say how it affected you
Include details about:
- loss of income if you were fired or had to take time off
- costs of looking for another job
- impact on your health, physical and mental
Say what you want the Tribunal to do
The Tribunal can order the employer to:
- pay you money
- give you a job
- change its practices so they follow human rights laws
You can ask for money to cover costs that you had or to replace money that you were forced to spend because of what the employer did.
You can also ask for money because of how the employer's actions affected you. When an employer does not respect your human rights, this can hurt you. The Tribunal can order the employer to pay you money for the hurt they caused you. You don't have to show that their actions cost you money.
You have to say on your application if you agree to try mediation. This means a Tribunal member meets with you and the employer to see if you can reach an agreement without going to a hearing.
The Tribunal won't do mediation unless your employer also agrees. And if the mediation doesn't end with an agreement, you still have the right to a hearing.
Learn more about how to apply to the Tribunal in How to complete an Application form to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
If you and your employer agree to mediation, the Tribunal sends you a Notice of Mediation. The Notice gives the time and place for the mediation. Contact the Tribunal within 5 days of getting the Notice if you need:
- a language interpreter
- accommodation because of a disability or other reason related to your human rights
- to change the date for a good reason, for example, you will be away from Ontario or you have another hearing in a court or tribunal
If you ask to change the date, you have to give other dates. It helps if the employer agrees to the other dates. There are rules you have to follow if you ask to change the date.
Think about what you want
Think about what you want to get and what's most important to you. Mediation usually doesn't work unless both you and your employer give up something. So you might not be able to get the full amount of money you ask for in your claim. Some people make an agreement because they don't want to wait for or go to a hearing.
Who will be at mediation
If you have a lawyer or paralegal representing you, they should come with you. You can also bring a family member, friend or other support person.
A Tribunal member will be the mediator. If you don't reach an agreement, a different Tribunal member decides your claim after a hearing.
Mediation usually starts with everyone in the same room. Tell the Tribunal if you don't want to be in the same room as your employer. For example, if your employer sexually harassed you, you might ask to be in a separate room.
What happens at mediation
The mediator decides how to proceed. Usually, they start by going over what the claim is about. Then they meet with you and the employer separately.
The mediator may:
- help you understand your rights by explaining the law
- ask you questions
- suggest how you and your employer might be able to agree
You don't have to agree to anything if you don't want to. You can choose to have a hearing.
The Tribunal sends you a Confirmation of Hearing with the date, time and place for the hearing. It gives the deadlines for sharing information about evidence.
Collect your evidence
The Tribunal decides your claim based on the evidence at the hearing. The information in your application is not evidence.
You need to prove that:
- your employer acted in a way that goes against your human rights, and
- this caused you to lose money or be hurt in other ways
You prove this by bringing evidence to your hearing.
Your evidence can be:
- witnesses who say what they know about events that happened or how those events affected you
- documents, for example, letters or emails from your employer
You can also bring evidence in other formats. For example, you might have photographs, videos, or audio recordings that help prove your claim. The person who took the photograph or made the recording must come to the hearing.
Follow the rules
The Tribunal has detailed rules about what information you have to give about your evidence before the hearing. If you don't follow these rules, the Tribunal can refuse to consider your evidence or dismiss your claim without a hearing.
Ask for accommodation
You might need the Tribunal to do something so there won't be any barriers that discriminate against you in a way that goes against your human rights. This is called accommodation.
At the hearing
You might have a lawyer or paralegal to represent you. If not, you present your own case.
If you are presenting your own case, it's a good idea to read the Human Rights Legal Support Centre's Applicant's Guide to Preparing for a Hearing and the Tribunal's guide to preparing for a hearing. These guides will help you know what to expect and what to do at the hearing.
The Tribunal member doesn't usually decide the claim at the hearing. The Tribunal sends you the decision in writing later.