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Workplace Diversity & Employment Equity Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

Submitted by cschasny on Tue, 09/16/2014 - 4:14pm

What is diversity?

There are many definitions of diversity. For the University of Calgary diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. It is all inclusive and recognizes everyone and every group as part of the diversity that should be valued. (Wentling, 997). This broad definition includes not only race, religious belief, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, ancestry, age, place of origin, family status, and sexual orientation as well as other characteristics that shape an individual's attitudes, behaviours and perspectives.

What is employment equity?

Employment equity focuses on eliminating barriers to the employment of four designated groups: women, aboriginal peoples, peoples with disabilities, and visible minorities. Employment equity is a process adopted by the university as an employer to identify and eliminate discrimination in employment procedures and policies, remedy the effects of past discrimination, and ensure appropriate representation of the designated groups throughout an employer's workforce. Employment equity is compatible with the concept of diversity. Both approaches aim at achieving and valuing a workforce that reflects the diverse composition of Canadian society

Who are the four employment equity designated groups and why are these groups disadvantaged in employment?

There are four groups selected as the focus of employment equity because their labour market experience reveals long-standing patterns of high rates of unemployment and under-employment, concentration in low-pay and low-status jobs. The designated groups are women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and persons who are because of their race or colour, members of a visible minority group in Canada.

Why does the University of Calgary have an employment equity program?

The University of Calgary is committed to fairness in employment opportunity. As part of this commitment, the university initiated an employment equity program following guidelines established by the federal government. As a condition of the University bidding on and receiving federal research contracts, the university is required to participate in the Federal Contractor's Program. The Federal Contractors Program requires the university to follow specific procedures for achieving employment equity.

Is employment equity reverse discrimination?

No. Employment equity plans are programs that aim to change the workforce composition so that the employees reflect the community. Reverse discrimination occurs when a less-qualified candidate is hired. "Reverse discrimination" implies that women, non-white workers, aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities are being preferred over white, non-disabled, male workers. The facts show that it is members from the four designated groups who face discrimination, get less access to educational programs and training, and are often denied jobs and promotions even when they do have the qualifications and experience.

The University of Calgary continues to hire the best-qualified candidates, and employment decisions continue to be based on job performance criteria, such as skills, knowledge, and abilities. To ensure that we attract the best available candidates, efforts are made to enlarge the pool of qualified applicants from which candidates are selected. This involves advertising job vacancies more widely, encouraging applications from members of the four designated groups, and ensuring that recruitment and selection processes are bias-free.

Will the designated groups be given preferential treatment?

No. Employment equity is not an exclusive process, but rather an inclusive one. It does not impose barriers on, or deny employment opportunities to, those people who are not from designated groups. However, all applicants compete against an expanding group of candidates when applying for jobs or promotions because employment equity seeks to eliminate barriers so that everyone has an equal opportunity to compete for jobs. Neither the federal government nor the University imposes quotas for hiring members from the four designated groups.

Does employment equity means hiring and promoting unqualified or less-qualified people?

No. Employment equity is about hiring the best person for the job. It attempts to include members from the designated groups in the applicant pool so that everyone has a fair chance for employment and/or promotion. Employment equity means hiring and promoting people based on their skills and abilities to do a job. The University of Calgary continues to hire the best-qualified candidates, and employment decisions are based on job performance criteria, such as skills, knowledge, and abilities. Employment equity requires that we remove barriers and overcome both direct and indirect discrimination. In this way, the pool of excellent candidates increases substantially.

What does employment equity mean for University of Calgary employees?

Our employment equity program includes a review of employment policies and practices. Changes are made so that all current and prospective employees of equal qualification have fair access to training, retraining, job assignments, transfers, and promotions.

What will be my involvement in employment equity at University of Calgary?

At University of Calgary, all new employees are asked to complete the Employment Equity Survey, in which they are asked to identify whether or not they belong to a designated group. This information is necessary to determine the present makeup of the university's staff and faculty. Completion of the survey is voluntary and all results are kept confidential. New faculty and staff are asked to complete the survey when they sign up for their benefits during their orientation at Human Resources. Completion of the survey helps Human Resources get a clearer picture of who is employed in the workplace and how the University is doing in its progress toward equity.

Human Resources uses the data acquired in the Employment Equity Survey to produce statistical reports for the purpose of reviewing and improving our employment practices and maintaining the university's participation in the Federal Contractors Program. Remaining in compliance with the Federal Contractors Program is important because it ensures our researchers have the opportunity to bid on and receive research contracts with the Government of Canada.

What is a Bona Fide Occupational Requirement?

The Alberta Human Rights Act recognizes that, in certain circumstances, a limitation on individual rights may be ‘reasonable and justifiable’. Discrimination or exclusion may be allowed if an employer can show that a discriminatory standard, policy or rule is a necessary requirement of a job, that is, if it is a bona fide occupational requirement. For example:

  • In order to perform their jobs safely, persons employed as drivers require acceptable vision and an appropriate driver's licence.
  • Liquor store employees must be at least 18 years of age to sell liquor. There is no exception to this age requirement under Alberta legislation, thus creating a bona fide occupational requirement.

An employer can claim a bona fide occupational requirement if a complaint of discrimination is made against them. The onus is on the employer to show that it would be impossible to accommodate the employee without undue hardship.

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada released a decision in the Meiorin case that clarified how an occupational requirement is justified. The standard or bona fide occupational requirement must be

  • adopted for a purpose that is rationally connected to job performance
  • adopted in an honest and good faith belief that the standard is necessary for the fulfillment of that legitimate purpose, and
  • is reasonably necessary to accomplish that that legitimate purpose and it is impossible to accommodate the employee without the employer suffering undue hardship.

The test requires employers to accommodate or consider the capabilities of different members of society before adopting a bona fide occupational requirement. For example, safety regulations for operating machinery may require employees to meet certain standards in order to work in that job, or an individual's record of criminal offenses may be relevant where a person is applying for work as a security officer or people employed as drivers require acceptable vision requirements.

This does not mean that the employer cannot set standards, but it does mean that the standards should reflect the requirements of the job.