Canadian human rights legislation affects all human resources function in an organization. Human rights legislation extends to almost all aspects of the employment relationship. Within an employer-sponsored group benefits plan, human rights legislation covers the treatment of employees, beneficiaries and dependants.
Human rights legislation was passed into law in 1977 as the Human Rights Act by the Canadian Federal government, and subsequently each Province and Territory have extended the intent of Federal legislation by enacting their own anti-discrimination laws that apply within their province.
The following industries are regulated by the Federal Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code:
- Federal Government
- Crown Corporations
All other businesses in other industries are subject to Provincial regulation and are governed by Provincial human rights statutes.
The Canadian Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate intentionally or unintentionally against any individual based on:
- National or Ethnic Origin
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Pardoned Convicts
One area of discrimination that has directly affected group benefits is discrimination based on sex. It was common for group benefits to discontinue coverage for women on maternity leave as pregnancy and related conditions were not an illness or accident. This changed in 1989 through a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that stated pregnancy as a valid reason for being absent from work. Through additional legislation passed in 1992 in Alberta and removal of a section of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act in 2001, employers could not exclude pregnant employees from receiving benefits during disability leave. After these statutes were passed, Canadian insurers in Ontario amended their contracts to extend disability benefits for the health-related portion of maternity leave for 6 to 8 weeks depending on the form of birth (normal or caesarian).
Another change in human rights legislation affecting group benefits plans was the passing in 2000 of the Modernization of Benefits Obligations Act which amended 68 Federal statutes to extend benefits to same-sex common-law couples. Some of the statutes affected by this Act include:
- Income Tax Act
- Canada Pension Plan
- Government Annuities Act
- Old Age Security Act
- Canada Pension Plan
This change followed Provincial legislation for many Provinces that that already included same-sex couples the same benefits and obligations afforded to common law couples of the opposite sex.
It is common for group benefit insurance policies to provide coverage for same-sex spouses.
The Human Rights Act is enforced by the Canadian Human Rights Commission through investigations into alleged violations of the Act. Employers are not allowed to penalize individuals who file a complaint or participate in any way in a human rights case. The Human Rights Commission has the power to order compensation/fines to affected individuals from the offender. Each of the Provinces have established similar Commissions operating in a similar manner to enforce Provincial human rights legislation and those organizations that fall under Provincial juristicion.