Frequently Asked Questions
- What is an equitable employment system?
- What is the purpose of an employment equity policy?
- What are ‘systemic barriers’ faced by members of the designated groups?
- What is the Federal Contractors Program?
- Does employment equity lead to hiring unqualified people?
- Shouldn’t all workers be treated equally in the workplace?
- What is the difference between employment equity (Canada) and affirmative action (US)?
An equitable employment system is a system which is fair for all, operates on merit and is free of systemic barriers that might have an adverse effect on the hiring, retention or promotion of a group of people.
Historically, examinations of occupations, careers patterns, and unemployment rates have indicated serious disparities between the labour force experiences of members of the designated groups (women, visible minorities, Aboriginal persons, and persons with disabilities). To address these disparities, the Canadian government passed into law a set of regulations, the Federal Contractors Program (1986) and the Employment Equity Act (1996), to ensure that no one is denied employment opportunities and benefits for reasons unrelated to ability. Employment equity ensures that systemic barriers faced by designated group members are identified and eliminated.
The term ‘systemic barriers’ refers to situations, policies and/or practices, which unfairly exclude members of the designated groups from taking part in the workplace. These “barriers” are varied and can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- sexism, racism or prejudices which manifest in the workplace
- physical barriers which prevent disabled people from accessing or participating fully in the workplace
- lack of access to education or training
- lack of accommodation of family responsibilities (caregivers of young children or elderly parents)
- impact of child rearing responsibilities on the tenure and promotion process
- “chilly climate”: environment which has the effect of excluding or undermining a person or a group of people in a working environment
- lack of awareness of cross-cultural issues (particularly in communications)
The Federal Contractors Program (FCP) was initiated by Cabinet in 1986. The FCP applies to provincially regulated employers with a workforce in Canada of 100 or more employees. Specifically, the FCP applies to contractors – those provincially regulated employers which receive federal government goods or services contracts of $1 million or more. As a condition of bidding on federal contracts, contractors are required to certify in writing their commitment to employment equity. Contractors that do not honour their commitment to employment equity and are found non-compliant with program criteria may lose the right to receive further federal government contracts.
No, the purpose of employment equity is to hire qualified candidates; it is not to hire unqualified workers simply to meet numerical goals. Employment equity respects the ‘merit principle’ and encourages the selection, hiring, training, promotion and retention of qualified individuals.
“The biggest injustice is to treat equally things which are unequal” - Aristotle.
Experience and social research show that equality of rights or equal treatment is not sufficient to achieve equality of opportunities in society and in the workplace. This is why employment equity programs have been created, to overcome these inequities and to enhance employment opportunities for members of the designated groups. Employment equity means treating everyone with fairness, taking into account people’s differences.
Both programs are government initiatives to legislate fairness for certain groups of people. Both share the goal of a workforce that reflects the pool of talent available in the labour market. While both programs rely on numerical representation to measure progress, the major difference between the two is that affirmative action relies on quotas that must be achieved or the employer will face punitive consequences. In comparison, employment equity relies on flexible, rational targets (representation goals and timetables) that employers set themselves according to the reality of their business. Instead of quotas, employers set targets for measuring progress in hiring workers from the four designated groups.