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September 2012

What Toby’s Act Means for Employers

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“…how can you ensure your organization treats all employees with respect and sensitivity?”

 

Toby’s Act came into force on June 12th of this year. This simple piece of legislation adds four words to the definition of prohibited grounds of discrimination to the Ontario Human Rights Act: “gender identity” and “gender expression.” It provides greater clarity to the Ontario Human Rights Code and gives transgendered Ontarians the right to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination and harassment in employment, accommodation, membership in trade unions and contracting, and other workplace matters. For employers, it means that you are responsible for ensuring that your company provides a non-discriminatory environment for employees and people doing contract work or who regularly come into contact with the organization.  You must also ensure that there is an appropriate process for dealing with harassment complaints.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission refers to the term “transgender” as people whose sense of self, particularly their sense of being male or female, is different than social expectations based on their birth-assigned sex. It includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, intersex individuals and other people. It can be daunting to try to understand how each of these groups fits into the larger trans community. The key thing to understand is that individuals are to be recognized as the gender they live in.

Although some employers struggle with how to ensure their workplace is always respectful, there are many benefits to taking positive action. You not only gain access to the broadest possible range of employee and contractor skill sets and perspectives, you open your doors to the largest possible customer and client base. So, how can you ensure your organization treats all employees with respect and sensitivity?

Here are some positive actions you can take:

• Update your discrimination and harassment policies to include gender identity and gender expression.

• Verify that your privacy policy ensures the maximum degree of privacy and confidentiality in all cases including employment records and files, medical information and insurance company records.

• Ensure all your policies include inclusive language such as “people of all genders” rather than “men and women.”

• Take a look at your recruiting processes—is your job application form sensitive to transgendered candidates?

• When asking for “employee name” on forms include “preferred name.”

• Review your appearance standards or dress code to ensure they are gender neutral.

• Provide access to washrooms and change facilities based on the gender people currently live in, unless an individual specifically asks for other accommodation.

• Deal with any language or behaviour that deliberately degrades or stereotypes employees on the basis of their real or perceived gender identification.

• Check with your benefits provider to determine if your organization’s plan covers gender reassignment related services/drugs.

• Ensure your organization is open to conversations about transitioning from one gender to another while in the workplace and how the employee will come out to colleagues and customers.

• Create a more inclusive workplace by offering expanded diversity training to heighten awareness and develop sensitivity of all diversity issues.

Sound business practices that that respect and honour the uniqueness of all employees and customers aren’t just good for your bottom line. Increasingly, they’re the law. More information about Toby’s Law is available at www.ohrc.on.ca.