11.2 Understanding Legislation and Diversity

At this point in this chapter, it is important to offer some insight of the legislation that has been passed regarding diversity. In today’s age, the legal system is used in conjunction with diversity to combat discrimination in the workplace, and each country has its own ways to combat discrimination, not only within organizations, but within civil society.


As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, declared that Canada would be a multicultural nation in 1971, followed by the adoption of the Multiculturalism Act of 1988 by the Canadian Parliament. In between 1971 and 1988, the Canadian Human Rights Act (R. S. C., 1985, c. H-6) was adopted, which states:

“[T]hat all individuals should have the opportunity with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society.”[7]

This act is the key legislative tool protecting individuals in Canadian society against discrimination based on an individual’s race, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and others[7].

In regards workplaces and organizations, sections 7 to 11 of the Canadian Human Rights’ Act focus on employment within organizations. This means that the act focuses on employment, hiring, wages, and value of work with an emphasis that it is discriminatory to refuse employment, collude against, provide unequal wages, or adjust the criterion of work relative to the skill[7]. Canada has a strong safety net for preventing discriminatory practices in the workplace.  Leaders and managers within all organizations are cognizant of the laws presented, which aim to protect all members.

United States

The United States has a long history of discrimination and legislation, not to mention, a rich history of legislation with such venerated articles as the Constitution of the United States. The acknowledgement of discrimination, and the legislation to hinder discrimination, came about over two decades before Canada with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which proposes that a “[prohibition] of discrimination in public places, [providing] the integration of schools and other public facilities”[8].

US Senate
The Civil Rights Act was passed in the chambers of the U.S. Senate in 1964. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Senate_Session_Chamber.jpg

Within the workplace, key titles and amendments have been introduced and put into law since 1964. Enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission, circa 1964, it administers and enforces the civil rights’ laws against workplace discrimination[9]. Below is a list of the key diversity-related legislation:


Key Diversity Related Legislation (Source: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC-BY 4.0 license)
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with the primary role of making it illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace due to their race, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or pregnancy status
Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandates that men and women must be given the same pay for equal work
Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids discrimination against individuals who are age 40 and above
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, and in telecommunications
Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits any discrimination as it relates to pregnancy, including hiring, firing, compensation, training, job assignment, insurance, or any other employment conditions
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants new parents up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave to care for the new child, and gives nursing mothers the right to express milk on workplace premises.


Within the European Union (EU), anti-discrimination laws within the workplace are also present. Beginnings of anti-discrimination were founded in the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 with Article 6a in the document stating that members within the EU are to “combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation”[10].

Since the Treaty of Amsterdam, acknowledgement of discrimination in places of work saw the adoption of the EU Employment Equality Directive to extend a protection of rights against discrimination “by explicitly obliging the Member States to prohibit discrimination in employment on the grounds of religion or belief, age, disability, and sexual orientation”[11]. These directives act as a check-and-balance to ensure that all member nations within the EU are following the directives of preventing discrimination in the workplace. Another key impact of this legislation is that it is multilateral (encompassing more than one country) in its approach.  Here are some of the countries where this multilateral approach applies[12]:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom

Why Know About Legislation?

It is important to know about legislation as leaders within learning organizations, or any organization, to develop an understanding of working within the laws of their country, or a country in the global marketplace. Legislation is important in identifying the rules and ethics that govern an organization.  Referring back to chapter 6, it is clear how the basic formats of ethics’ codes within organizations get their ideas from the legislation passed in a country’s history. This presents an interdisciplinary look on how political and legal actions have an effect on leaders and managers within educational institutions.

Contemporary Arguments in Diversity Legislation

Issues still arise within the realm of diversity legislation, such as protection of jobs based on extraneous factors. One example of relevance is the human resources practice of using social media sites to base hiring and firing decisions, which reflects and emerging issues within organizations[13]. It is important to understand the different pitfalls when basing decisions on extraneous factors, such as future policy change, lack of cultural awareness, and constitutional implications relating to collusion.

Understanding diversity within learning organizations in relation to legal issues is important to understand change within an organizational society. Canadian organizations embrace of the Canadian Multicultural Heritage Program provided by the federal government, introduces a greater identity to multicultural and cultural integration[14]. Furthermore, the forward movement on psychological harassment legislation in provincial legislatures[15], has helped boost the awareness of subduing harmful tactics in the workplace, and to embrace a newer form of cultural diversity in learning organizations.

Review Question:

  1. What are three key legislative documents (in Canada, United States, and the European Union) which help promote diversity within the workplace?
  2. Why is it important to know about legislation in a learning organization?


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Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations Copyright © by Clayton Smith; Carson Babich; and Mark Lubrick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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